The next UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, opens on Thursday in Dubai. This year, food systems issues will play a more central role in the negotiations than ever before, with a day of the conference devoted to food, for the first time.
Food and agriculture account for roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Among the main sources are petroleum-based fertilizers, livestock and food waste, and the conversion of biomes like forest and grasslands to plant soy and other commodities. At the same time, food production is also imperiled by the mounting climate crisis; one analysis found that if total emissions stay high, a third of global food production will be at risk.
One of the main features of this year’s conference is a moment of reckoning called the Global Stocktake. Countries will assess how much progress they have (or, spoiler alert, haven’t) made toward their commitments from the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aimed to keep the increase in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). And they’ll make new agreements on how to step up the pace of change.
Around 100 countries are also expected to sign a declaration on “Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action.” According to an inadvertently released draft, the signatories will pledge to integrate food and agriculture into their strategies to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity. They also will “revisit or orient policies and public support” for agriculture and food systems to promote emissions reductions, resilience, health, and livelihoods while reducing environmental harm.
To learn more about what to expect at this year’s conference, I spoke with Melissa D. Ho, senior vice president for freshwater and food at World Wildlife Fund-U.S. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.