COP28's impact on food businesses: Unveiling the top 3 key outcomes for food and agriculture

Rose Scanlon-JonesRose Scanlon-Jones

By Rose Scanlon-Jones

{1} min read

COP28 has concluded its final hours. Traditionally this conference is the epicentre for global leaders to convene and negotiate to avoid climate disaster – but in recent years, it has left many feeling it's become a soapbox for empty promises and unclear climate progress direction. Was this year any different? We uncover the three key takeaways from the summit that could shape the landscape for UK food businesses in 2024.

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Before jumping into the key announcements and takeaways we’d like to acknowledge that this year's UN climate conference highlighted the crucial role of agrifood systems. One uplifting notable theme from this year was the concerted effort from organisers to tackle the issue from all sides; considering the planetary boundaries, boosting investments for tackling methane in agriculture and protecting global freshwater systems

What were the important food related agreements and announcements?

  • Carbon labels: Collaborations between data solutions like Foodsteps and food retailers and restaurants have helped to increase the general conversation and visibility of carbon and environmental labels. As an instance, French supermarket Carrefour has put labels on 2,500 food items across five stores in the UEA.
  • Adoption of environmental food data: The COP28 catering team utilised data to enable their F&B vendors to calculate the carbon and water intensity of menu items.
  • A global food roadmap to align to 1.5 degrees: UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation announced a Global Roadmap, striving to revamp agrifood systems to sustainably nourish the expanding global population within the 1.5-degree limit set by the Paris Agreement.
  • Climate finance at the farm level: Conference organisers reported that since the commencement of the summit over $3BN in finance has been committed to food and agriculture
  • The UK steps up to the plate: The UK announced its support for sustainable, climate-resilient farming practices, including improving access to clean water in climate-vulnerable countries. In addition, the UK will also provide £10M through the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to help smallholder farmers and others improve their incomes in ways which mitigate the impact on the natural world, particularly forests.
  • COP28 opened with a declaration of global unity: COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action (also known as the 'Emirates Declaration') commits more than 100 Heads of State to transform their food and agricultural systems into a climate solution. This announcement is being hailed by some as a 'win for small farmers' since it aims to mobilise more than $2.5BN to address existing solutions in agriculture-related climate issues.
  • Frontlines and farmers to become the supply chains focus: An offshoot call to action was announced by a broad coalition of farmers and other frontline food systems actors from businesses, cities, consumers, civil society and philanthropies. This came in the form of the ‘Call to Action’ which has been signed by over 200 Non-State actors by The UN Climate Change High-Level Champions. This call to action is intended to complement the Emirates Declaration, reinforcing the need for not just words and signed papers but also the creation and execution of an action plan. 

How will the outcomes from COP28 impact the F&B industry?

The short answer is, currently it’s too early to say exactly how the fallout from COP28, like with many that preceded it, will impact the economy and industries. However, here are our key takeaways from COP28 announcements and our thoughts on how this may impact your food business. 

  • Look to engage with your supply chain, especially if you’re working with farmers: The Emirates Declaration is especially focused on supporting and investing in farmers and those in agriculture who are worst affected by climate change. NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said that although the declaration was a welcome step, “it’s essential that the responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not placed solely on farmers and growers,” he added. “(We need to) recognise the need to involve them in decision-making” he added. Think about actively supporting your supplier throughout their transition. This may mean committing to working with them on a long-term basis during and after changes in production practices. When setting ambitious goals, it's essential to strike a balance between being visionary and realistic. Explore the science-based solutions you can help your farmers adopt over the next five to ten years. 
  • Climate finance: Furthermore, governments, philanthropies, and private investors are increasing funding for addressing methane in agriculture, halting deforestation, and supporting climate-smart innovation. This could potentially result in a broader adoption of climate technology. However, the challenge lies not in the scarcity of technological solutions but in the necessity for widespread adoption and a shift in processes to drive innovation. Therefore, while this development appears beneficial for the food and beverage industry, it doesn't necessarily assure an immediate transformation with the pledged $3BN.
  • Invest in ways to measure and record your carbon food footprint: Measuring and reducing carbon emissions is crucial for achieving sustainability goals. So, invest in ways to measure and record your carbon footprint, and understand which are the quickest pathways to reducing it. We can see this mirrored in the Emirates Declaration's fourth objective, which anticipates a new emphasis on refining how we responsibly measure, record, manage, and report emissions throughout our supply chain. If you're operating in the UK The Food and Data Transparency Partnership, led by DEFRA, is also considering this issue. This underscores the importance of food businesses having readily available food emissions data to support the UK's goal of selling and producing more sustainably produced foods.

COP28 hasn't closed it's doors without any criticisms

Whilst many of these noted above are steps towards a fairer, healthier food system - we want to offer a healthy dose of scepticism.

In some of the signed agreements and declarations there is lack of a clear strategy for reducing fossil fuels in the food supply chain, as highlighted in the commentary on the Emirates Declaration by Patty Fong, Program Director at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food - “The Declaration fails to outline how governments will address food emissions and omits any mention of fossil fuels, despite food systems contributing to at least 15% of annual fossil fuel consumption—equivalent to the emissions of all EU countries and Russia combined. This omission is significant.” 

When it comes to the elephant in the room, the fossil fuels industry had unprecedented access to COP28 this year - leading many to be suspicious of any agreements, promises or pledges from the key organisers that lack any mention of fossil fuels. However, in the final hours before closing a universal agreement was reached on fossil fuels.

Final thoughts

Following the conclusion of COP28, it's worth noting that this year's emphasis on food systems was unparalleled in the conference's history. However, as with many global events, we're keen to see governments and policymakers develop a clear adoption plan.

At Foodsteps we refuse to wait, we share concerns about the need for transparency in phasing out fossil fuels and stress the importance of concrete actions that align with conference discussions. These are some of the reasons why we're currently working proactively with DEFRA and collaborating on the ongoing creation of The Food and Data Transparency Partnership to drive national-level action forward in the UK. 

Our work, which involves capturing accurate environmental food data, is a crucial way for the industry to bridge the gap between words and actions, and to inform carbon and environmental targets for a more sustainable future.

Join the companies who already use Foodsteps@ to measure, report and reduce their environmental impact.