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COP28 underscores the role of nature in reaching climate ambitions

12 December 2023

This year’s UN climate summit placed increased focus on global food systems and their emissions

To reach global climate ambitions, governments, companies, and other stakeholders must take urgent action to protect nature. Approximately one-third of planet-warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the agriculture and food sector, according to the UN FAO. Land use change, such as deforestation or conversion of natural ecosystems, makes up a large portion of those emissions.

This makes elimination of deforestation and ecosystem conversion linked to agricultural and forestry supply chains an essential component of robust climate action. To ensure that this climate transition is a just one, these actions must also safeguard the rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and workers.

The 2023 climate summit culminated in an outcome document that emphasises the importance of conserving, protecting, and restoring nature and ecosystems in part by halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation by 2030. It encourages the implementation of integrated, multi-sectoral solutions, such as land use management and sustainable agriculture, and urges governments and other actors to achieve climate-resistant and sustainable food and agricultural production. Further, the document acknowledges that countries should respect human rights obligations when taking climate action.

Meeting in Dubai, UNFCCC member states prioritise food systems

COP28 saw progress from governments and intergovernmental institutions on addressing food system emissions. More than 150 countries endorsed the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, thereby pledging to integrate food systems approaches into climate action agendas.

AFi Coalition member WWF called on signatories to immediately translate the declaration’s commitments into national action and implementation on the ground. Ani Dasgupta, President and CEO of AFi member World Resources Institute (WRI), noted that signatories are “sending 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.”

Also at COP28, Brazil, Cambodia, Norway, Sierra Leone and Rwanda invited other countries to join the new Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation. It focuses on five themes: food and nutrition security; adaptation and resilience; equity and livelihoods; nature and biodiversity; and climate mitigation. WRI urged countries to join the alliance, which will drive national and multilateral progress on food and climate.

Recognising that Indigenous Peoples and local communities play an important role in finding climate solutions, UNFCCC launched the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, and 18 member states issued a Joint Statement on Climate, Nature and People. In welcoming the statement and encouraging additional signatures, WWF noted that nature-based solutions can deliver multiple goals for people and the planet.

To support governments in implementing emissions reductions, the UN FAO released the Global Roadmap for Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) without Breaching the 1.5°C Threshold. It identifies 120 actions and key milestones within ten domains, including crops and forests. The roadmap was complemented by a new Agriculture, Food and Climate National Action Toolkit aimed at helping governments align and integrate recommended actions within their national strategies. However, Rainforest Foundation Norway, an AFi Coalition member, joined other civil society actors in expressing concern that the roadmap’s “consideration of livestock overemphasises reducing emissions intensity (rather than decreasing gross emissions).”

The Forests and Climate Leaders Partnership, which works to implement the COP26 Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, released progress reports, national action plans, and new initiatives at COP28. In response, WWF noted that new commitments must be backed by accountability, transparency, and clear action plans for halting deforestation, and protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing forests.

Countries also build momentum at home

Governments representing countries that are key markets for agricultural commodities announced progress towards controlling imports of agricultural and forestry products linked to land use change.

The European Commission offered new resources to support a successful transition to deforestation-free supply chains. They include the launch of the EU observatory on deforestation and forest degradation, announcement of the Team Europe Initiative on Deforestation-free Value Chains, and highly-anticipated answers to questions about implementation of the EU Deforestation Regulation.

In the UK, the government revealed plans to ban beef, cocoa, leather, palm oil, and soy that has been sourced from land used illegally. While recognising the plans as an important first step, WWF noted that “illegal deforestation is only part of the picture.” Similarly, Mighty Earth lamented the legislation’s limited scope and “loopholes.” Global Canopy said it hopes to see the set of commodities expanded and the finance sector engaged.  

In the US, a bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced the Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade Act (or FOREST Act) in the House of Representatives and the Senate. If signed into law, the act would restrict the import of products linked to illegal deforestation. The AFi has endorsed the act along with dozens of non-profit organisations, including AFi Coalition members Forest Trends, Mighty Earth, National Wildlife Federation, and WWF. While the act is a positive step, the AFi urges companies to take action to eliminate all deforestation and conversion from their agricultural and forestry supply chains regardless of legality.

Companies need to accelerate action

During COP28, companies committed to greater collaboration towards the shared goal of reducing emissions associated with food and agriculture.

As a follow-up to the Agriculture Sector Roadmap to 1.5°C delivered at COP27 last year, the eight soy trader signatories released a joint statement clarifying their intentions to address deforestation and ecosystem conversion linked to their soy supply chains. Since COP27, several signatories have also made individual commitments to eliminate deforestation and conversion associated with soy in key South American origins by 2025.

The AFi welcomed the traders’ progress, but noted that the target laid out in the joint statement does not provide the level of ambition needed to achieve a 1.5°C pathway. The AFi expressed concern about the 2030 target date and cutoff date for eliminating conversion from supply chains. Similarly, AFi Coalition member Trase said the statement “reflects some progress, but is still far too limited in its scope and slow in its pace.” WWF noted in regard to cattle, cocoa, palm oil, and soy that “although some progress has been made by individual traders since their initial commitments made last year at COP27, the sector as a whole has not moved with the urgency needed.”

Additionally at COP28, the World Economic Forum announced the launch of the First Movers Coalition for Food. “The new initiative aims to accelerate sustainable farming and production methods and technologies by leveraging collective demand for low-carbon agricultural commodities,” according to WEF. Founding members include 20 food sector companies and research partners.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Forest Solutions Group released a list of 10 high-impact actions to help companies decarbonise their forest products value chains. The Catalogue of key decarbonization actions emphasises that sustainable forest management is key to securing carbon stocks and ensuring forests continue to sequester carbon.

Support for this critical transition

To support governments and companies in taking action at COP28 and beyond, members of AFi Coalition have offered new insights, resources, and tools. The offerings aim to support governments, food and agriculture companies, financial institutions, and other stakeholders in making informed decisions about corporate action to reduce emissions from food systems.

  • The Accountability Framework has been included in the Global Commons Alliance’s new Resource Navigator for Companies and Financial Institutions. It provides guidance on how to take action for climate and nature across operations, portfolios, and supply chains.
  • Global Canopy and partners found that global annual finance flows of $7 trillion are fuelling climate, biodiversity, and land degradation crises, according to the State of Finance of Nature.
  • Mighty Earth analysis suggests that beef products in Brazilian supermarkets sourced from JBS, Marfrig and Minerva-owned slaughterhouses are linked to more than half a million hectares of deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado.
  • SBTi launched the Supply Change call to action urging companies to take action on Scope 3 emission. SBTi is a partnership between AFi Coalition members DP, WRI, and WWF and the United Nations Global Compact.
  • The Nature Conservancy welcomed Brazil’s first state-wide cattle traceability program, which will cover over 24 million cattle on nearly 300,000 farms.
  • Trase released new data quantifying the emissions from deforestation and peat loss linked to the expansion of beef, cocoa, soy, palm oil, and pulp in key producing countries. Trase is an initiative of AFi Coalition member Global Canopy and the Stockholm Environment Institute.
  • Trase also found that a near fivefold increase in deforestation between 2017 and 2022 has ended a decade of progress for Indonesia’s pulp sector.
  • WWF released a report that sets out how national governments can strengthen synergies between their national climate plans and national biodiversity strategies.
  • WWF, in an expert blog, explained the difference between cutoff dates and target dates. The article also explores how setting an appropriate and ambitious deforestation- and conversion-free target is critical for both nature and business.
  • WRI published a dashboard to monitor collective progress made across the six articles of the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use.
  • WRI also released a paper mapping cocoa and assessing deforestation risk for the cocoa sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
  • WRI Global Forest Review launched a beta version of its Deforestation and Restoration Targets Tracker. It offers standardised definitions and geospatial data around two measurable global targets that represent the distillation of multiple global forest pledges.
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