Declaration on building sustainable food systems announced at Cop28

Commitment aims to encourage resilience in production to better tackle climate crisis

A landmark declaration has been agreed at Cop28 to transition to sustainable food systems while building resilience in food production to better tackle the global climate crisis.

The Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action has was endorsed by 134 countries, including Ireland, meeting in Dubai.

The signatory countries are home to more than 5.7 billion people and almost 500 million farmers, who produce 70 per cent of the food they eat and are responsible for 76 per cent of all emissions from global food systems, or 25 per cent of total emissions globally.

Coinciding with the announcement, the UAE presidency announced mobilisation of more than $2.5 billion to support food security while combating climate change.


The declaration was announced at a special session of the world climate action summit led by Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia; Giorgia Meloni, prime minister of Italy; Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, prime minister of Samoa and US secretary of state Anthony J Blinken.

“There is no path to achieving the goals of the Paris climate agreement and keeping 1.5 degree within reach, that does not urgently address the interactions between food systems, agriculture, and climate,” said Mariam Almheiri, UAE minister of climate change and environment.

She added that the declaration, which commits to building robust food systems tied into national climate efforts, would help “bring a global food system fit for the future”.

The declaration will not only help strengthen food systems, but also build resilience to climate change, reduce global emissions and contribute to the global fight against hunger, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, according to the Cop28 presidency.

The declaration stresses the need for common action on climate change, which adversely affects a large portion of the world’s population, particularly those living in vulnerable countries and communities.

“The declaration sends a powerful signal to the nations of the world that we can only keep the 1.5 degree goal in sight if we act fast to shift the global food system in the direction of greater sustainability and resilience,” said Edward Leo Davey, head of the World Resources Institute UK.

“All countries must leave Cop with a commitment to incorporate food and food systems fully into their next round of nationally determined contributions [known as NDCs] and return to Cop29 and Cop30 in Brazil with real progress to demonstrate to this end,” he said.

While food systems are vital for meeting societal needs and enabling adaptation to climate impacts, many smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries are facing heightened vulnerability to climate change due to extreme weather events.

“The commitment of world leaders to integrate food systems approaches [combining food production, consumption and loss and waste] in climate action is exactly what we need at a time when a 1.5 degrees future looks harder and harder to achieve,” said João Campari, WWF global food practice leader.

“This commitment keeps the hope alive, but it must urgently lead to action to protect, sustainably manage and restore landscapes, seascapes and riverscapes that are critical to sustain life on Earth, particularly those being degraded by unsustainable food systems.”

The NGO ActionAid said, however, it was a “missed opportunity” to tackle crucial issues.

ActionAid Ireland chief executive Karol Balfe said industrial agriculture, and its role in driving deforestation and factory farming of livestock, was the second largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to its reliance on fossil-fuelled fertilisers.

“At the same time, agriculture is the sector most vulnerable to climate impacts. As corporations have taken control over our most basic human needs, the world’s food systems have become complicit in their own destruction,” she said.

“While a focus on smallholder farmers and greater integration between climate and agriculture strategies are to be welcomed, the declaration does not diagnose or address the issues that drive injustice, vulnerability and climate change in our food systems. The emphasis on so-called ‘innovation’ and international trade risks casting exploitative industrial agribusiness corporations as the solution instead of the problem,” Ms Balfe said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times