Foodservice Footprint COP2 Friday digest: dreams, nightmares and lack of sleep Out of Home News Analysis  news-story-top news-email-top

Friday digest: dreams, nightmares and lack of sleep

“I’ve been in Dubai for the whole fortnight of the #COP28 experience so may have lost my bearings and started grasping at straws,” said David Shukman, the BBC’s former science editor and now an independent consultant. “So I’m sure there’ll be some among you who think I’ve gone too far, lost my usual sharp eye for spin and greenwash and let myself get caught up in the rhetoric. Or…this really was a COP that managed to introduce new language which does actually move things on and could signal the start of a new direction. Or I just need to catch up on sleep…”

That ‘language’ of course relates to fossil fuels – included in such an agreement for the first time. It wasn’t quite the ‘phasing out’ that many had hoped for, but a ‘transitioning away from’. Others found it rather more difficult to get excited by the ‘UAE Consensus’. “So, it’s 2023, and we’re meant to celebrate that the body charged with reducing global emissions has used the words ‘fossil fuels’ for the first time,” wrote ethical marketing expert Jane Shaw on social media.

Another word that was used more often at one of these events than ever before was food. Two thirds of that on offer to attendees was reportedly plant-based, with carbon labels on menus too. However, it was the inclusion of food as a topic for top table discussions that stole the headlines as more than 150 countries pledged to put food in their new climate plans by 2025 (the Emirates declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action). “Food systems have risen significantly up the climate agenda,” said the Food Systems Partnership, a collective of organisations behind the food systems pavilion at COP28 in Dubai.

Those who have been writing about such things for a long (long) time were similarly buoyed by the focus on food (which accounts for up to a third of all global emissions, let’s not forget). “At this summit came small but significant steps,” wrote Somini Sengupta for the New York Times. “A roadmap to trim the climate footprint of food shows how hard it is to feed the world on a hotter planet.”

The FAO’s roadmap detailed how methane emissions have to be reduced, crop productivity must rise, sustainable aquaculture needs to grow, soil must be protected and carbon has to be sequestered. Something needs to be done about food waste, too. Oh, and diets might need to change. “The roadmap acknowledged the need to change diets to reduce meat and dairy emissions but said that plant-based foods can’t be an adequate source of certain nutrients,” noted GreenQueen (which provided detailed daily updates of all the goings on in Dubai). What’s more, “only the FAO’s website (and not the report) calls on higher-income countries to cut their consumption. In fact, the report says meat production needs to be ramped up to address health challenges in poorer nations.”

The roadmap was created following a statement signed by investors representing $18 trillion and coordinated by the Fairr Initiative. “It is encouraging to see targets for methane reduction and discussion on shifting agricultural subsidies to support healthy diets,” said Fairr in a statement, “however, the current language does not go far enough towards alignment of nature and biodiversity goals as set out in the global biodiversity framework. Nor does it offer suitable ambition on deforestation – targeting the elimination of gross deforestation by 2035, rather than 2025 as suggested by the Science-Based Targets initiative.”

The UK government used COP28 to announce new legislation that will ban large businesses from sourcing various commodities linked to deforestation. Under the UK deforestation due diligence legislation, companies will also be required to undertake a due diligence exercise on their supply chains for palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather and soy, and to report on this exercise annually for transparency.  

The new laws, which have already been delayed by two years, don’t go far enough said campaigners who wanted coffee and rubber to be included too. Alexandria Reid, senior global policy advisor at Global Witness said the UK laws lag “far behind” those in the EU. “The fact that coffee is not on the list leaves a bitter aftertaste,” she added.

Which brings us back again to COP28. Much attention focused on the global stocktake, one of the pillars of the Paris Agreement. The final global stocktake decision text – the main outcome of the climate talks – recognises “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change”. It also encourages the implementation of integrated, multi-sectoral solutions, such as land use management, sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems, and ecosystem-based approaches. There is also mention of “attaining climate-resilient food and agricultural production and supply and distribution of food, as well as increasing sustainable and regenerative production and equitable access to adequate food and nutrition for all”.  

However, that all comes in the ‘adaptation’ section of the stocktake, with no mention of food in relation to ‘mitigation’. 

Food and agriculture are also mentioned in the final text of the Global Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme, which urges countries to attain climate-resilient food and agricultural production and supply and distribution of food, as well as increasing sustainable and regenerative production and equitable access to adequate food and nutrition for all. It is the only formal workstream to address agri-food systems and as the successor to the Koronivia joint work for agriculture, but as Carbon Brief described in its final report from the summit: there was talk and an agreement to talk again on this matter.

There will be far more to digest in the coming weeks from COP28 and that we will (but not before our roast potatoes and mince pies). 

The three other stories this week focus on: scope 3 reporting (has the food industry agreed on a standardised approach?); Unilever’s run-in with the CMA (the soap maker is under investigation for greenwashing); and the crunch vote in Brussels next week on packaging (new regulations look set to favour recycling and single-use over the circular economy and reuse).