Now that COP27, the UN’s annual climate conference, has come to a close, it’s time to look back and reflect on what has been achieved at this year’s negotiations. ProVeg was on the ground in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, in order to promote the shift to more plant-based diets as an essential response to global warming. Through our events at the Food4Climate Pavilion and our exchanges with national delegates and stakeholders, we were able to put food-systems change on the climate agenda. However, the official negotiation outcomes lack ambition and there is still a long way to go to ensure bold action on food-systems transformation. In the meanwhile, our team is preparing for the next COP28 in 2023 in order to build on this year’s successes.
What is COP and why is it important?
Since 1995, almost all the countries in the world have gathered each year to discuss global action on climate change and environmental protection. This annual meeting is called the Conference of the Parties, or COP. During the space of two weeks every year, national delegations agree on common goals and commitments, and negotiate which concrete measures governments should implement in order to reduce emissions and pollution.
For climate and sustainability advocates, these discussions are crucial because they have the potential to yield incredibly important results for climate action. While it’s true that the final outcomes often fall short of expectations, previous COP negotiations have significantly advanced global climate action. For example, the common commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees celcius, agreed on at COP21 in 2015, has since increased pressure on governments around the world to deliver on climate action. For advocates, COP is thus a unique opportunity to promote their climate solutions.
Promoting plant-based at the Food4Climate Pavilion
ProVeg has been engaging with this process for several years and once again sent a delegation to this year’s conference, taking place in Egypt. Together with more than 20 partners, we organised the Food4Climate Pavilion, an event space at the official COP conference venue that was dedicated to presentations, panel discussions, and networking events. The pavilion underlined the great need for the transformation of our global food system, which is responsible for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.1 Notably, it promoted the shift to more plant-based diets, along with alternative proteins, as key strategies to reduce emissions and make our food systems more sustainable. Events at the pavilion ranged from expert discussions on plant-based innovation to panel debates on the role of youth and indigenous people in food-systems transformation.
Outside of the pavilion, ProVeg participated in several other events on food systems and plant-rich diets, met with national delegates, talked to several journalists and media, and engaged in a range of networking events with key stakeholders.
Some reasons for optimism
Overall, COP27 marked a turning point by including food systems in climate negotiations. This year was the first time that the conference saw several pavilions focussed entirely on food, including, of course, the Food4Climate Pavilion. It was also the first time that the official programme of the summit included an entire day dedicated to discussions around agriculture. What’s more, several government initiatives on advancing food security, sustainable agriculture, and nutrition were launched or announced during the talks, including the Egyptian presidency’s FAST initiative and the action plan on sustainable food systems from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Together, all these events show that the topic of food-systems change has been increasingly mainstreamed in the global climate debate. Given that discussions of the role of food and agriculture in global warming have been strongly marginalised up to now, this represents significant progress.
But still a long way to go
At the same time, the final negotiated outputs of the conference remain limited in their inclusion of food systems and diets. Mentions of food systems, diets, and the impact of agriculture is rare. Notably, the conclusion of the UN’s main framework for discussing the role of food and agriculture in global warming – the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture – crucially lacks ambition and entirely omits the need for consumption changes.
A plant-based diet can have numerous positive effects on the environment, including the preservation of biodiversity, more sustainable use of resources, and combatting climate change.
Looking ahead: COP28
All of this means that ProVeg and its partners will be pushing even harder at the next climate conference, COP28, which will take place in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to bring food-systems change to the fore. Having familiarised the topic with multiple delegates at this year’s and previous conferences, COP28 will be a promising opportunity to encourage governments to take concrete steps on making our food consumption and production more sustainable. We have already been in touch with the organisers of next year’s conference, the delegation of the UAE, and had several fruitful discussions on the importance of giving food, agriculture, and diets the space that they deserve in global climate negotiations.