World Food Day: We need collective action to tackle a collective problem

In the run up to Cop28, the UAE is promoting a unified, solutions-based approach to food insecurity

A worker collects wheat grain falling from a sack. Photographer: Islam Safwat / Bloomberg
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The quality and the availability of our water can tell us so much about the health of our planet. It is therefore apt that October 16, World Food Day, is dedicated to the theme of “water”, the heart of any thriving food system.

This year, our TV screens have provided a reminder of the harsh and painful realities of what happens when the balance of water in our food systems fails us. From devastating famines to severe droughts and life-threatening floods, we are seeing their frequency spike as the globe is impacted by the effects of climate change.

Worldwide, agriculture is the single largest user of freshwater. Feeding our growing global population equitably and sustainably cannot be achieved without water. We take it for granted at our peril.

With the UN predicting the global population will hit 8.5 billion by 2030, the pressure on our water and food systems will only grow. How we manage the rapid rise in demand, production, distribution and consumption of food will be one of the single biggest challenges we face in the fight against climate change and is something the UAE will put front and centre at Cop28 in less than 50 days’ time.

The world is desperately seeking solutions to the climate challenge humanity faces. My firm belief is any solutions designed to address the impact of climate change on our food systems will fail if water-related ecosystems are not actively considered, safeguarded and prioritised as part of that urgent discussion. As such, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s focus on this vital issue as part of this year’s World Food Day is not only commendable, but essential.

Our globe is a network of carefully crafted ecological structures that work together to keep our climate stable and our environment suitable for life. With Cop28 fast approaching, there is a growing understanding that we are one ecosystem – we rise or fall together.

In short, our ecosystem operates as one, so in our fight to save it, we must too – East and West; Global North and Global South; old world and new world.

We need collective action that transcends national borders, and brings together world leaders, governments, scientists, community leaders, businesses and voices from every part of the globe. No one can or should be left behind. Climate action needs to be designed and delivered by all, for the benefit of all.

This is the message I will be relaying today at the World Food Day Summit in Rome. Alongside esteemed colleagues such as QU Dongyu, the Director General of the FAO, Sergio Mattarella, the President of Italy, Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland, and Pope Francis, I will be making the UAE’s case for a wholly inclusive solution to the climate crisis.

This inclusive approach to conservation was built into the foundations of our nation from the very start, through the wisdom of our Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He believed that the UAE should lead by example, and this ethos has remained with us to this day.

The UAE was the first country in the Mena region to commit to trebling production of renewable energy and achieve a 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 (vs business as usual). And we have made our third consecutive update in three years to our Nationally Determined Contribution submission that outlines our plans for climate change mitigation, while the requirement to do so is every five years.

We want to be ambitious, and we are committed. We want to lead the region is securing a more prosperous future as global citizens. We want to harness the opportunities the green transformation provides, and we want to instill hope in our young citizens for it is their future that is in our hands.

But it will all be in vain if we do not work together across countries, regions and continents to tackle our collective problem.

It was in Rome some months ago that I launched the Cop28 Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda. This ambitious plan serves as a platform to help transform global food systems to ensure their long-term sustainability and get everyone to align. Its four pillars – national leadership, non-state actors, scaling up innovation, and finance – provide flexibility for us to grow and adapt as our planet and population changes.

I am today, as I have been in the past months, calling on all nations to commit to and sign the Emirates Declaration on Food Systems, Agriculture and Climate Action. With this Declaration, we can galvanise political will and ensure that countries align their national food systems and agricultural strategies with their Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans and National Biodiversity Strategies.

This Declaration, while technical in nature, is a vital commitment to building a global community that is dedicated to transforming food systems, enhancing food security, protecting the livelihoods of food producers, and increasing collective resilience to climate change.

At Cop28, taking place in Dubai in less than two months, food systems and their intricate link to agriculture and water will be front and centre. On December 10, during Cop28, in partnership with Brazil, we are hosting the first ever ministerial dialogue on building water-resilient food systems held at a UN Climate Conference. Our commitment to a collective solution is unwavering.

We know that collaborative action is no small challenge, but the spirit of inclusivity and collective responsibility must inspire us all to act. Our future and the future of our children depends on it.

Published: October 16, 2023, 4:00 AM