Why so much of Cop28 is about food

Humanitarians at the global climate summit are stressing the links between climate finance, hunger and war

The World Food Programme is raising less than half of the funds it asks for in its appeals. AFP
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Everybody agrees there is enough food to feed the world but there is not enough agreement on how to go about feeding it.

Outside the core issue of limiting global warming via the net-zero carbon push, the most important developments at Cop28 relate to food.

When Band Aid sang "feed the world", it was a response to famine in the Ethiopian civil war. Four decades on, I was pleased that one of the first world leaders I spotted in the flesh at the summit last week was Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s President.

Declarations that aim to increase the security of supply of food as well as foster innovation and boost the climate resilience of crops are expected to be a feature of the week ahead at Cop.

These are very welcome from the point of view of the agency that feeds the world when all else goes wrong. The World Food Programme’s climate point man, Gernot Laganda, sat with me during Cop28 to run through just why this is important. His warnings show that while it can be locally deadly to neglect food shortages as a war driver, globally it is self-harming not to invest more in the pursuit of crops.

Mr Laganda makes the point that a summit where leaders are making pledges day by day for strengthening food systems is a good thing. Finding the sums commensurate with the scale of the problem is the next challenge.

He points out that Cop28 means essentially more than three decades of climate change has not changed the direction of the crisis. Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato Secretary General, would agree. He reflected that his first meeting of the UN-led climate process was at Cop2, when he was a deputy environment minister of his native Norway.

Declarations that aim to increase the security of supply of food are expected to be a feature of the week ahead at Cop

Now the Nato leader talks about competition triggered by climate in raw power terms. The crisis has been unleashed as a driver of conflict. What advice could the young Jens and his colleagues have benefitted from at that second summit?

One of the issues of the climate process is the predominance of jargon and acronym. To Mr Laganda the issue of mitigation, that is stopping the rise in temperatures, is failing. There is clear evidence from the World Metrological Organisation among others that record temperatures in nine of the past 10 years is proof enough of that process being set fair.

For the frontline WFP, which could support more than 330 million people in fragile or destroyed states by its own criteria, this battle is indeed raging across a series of fronts.

The next line of defence important for Mr Laganda is adaptation of places most at risk of adverse weather. He cites the work of the UN’s Environment Programme (Unep).

“There is an adaptation gap report by Unep that basically tells us there is maybe a tenth of the adaptation resources that are necessary in developing countries is being provided,” he tells me. “We have a massive adaptation gap amid a patent funding gap.”

From his point of view the investments have been too little too late. Getting the solution right is tough. Systems that should be set up to prevent the worst outcomes are inadequate to threat, even where they are established in the first place. That is a risk that the world faces in any situation but it is a measure of the fine line between success and failure in the climate fight.

As a result, people already live in an era of loss and damage with the series of unmitigated climate impacts that we are seeing every month.

To Mr Laganda, the establishment of a disaster fund is by itself useful because it provides a signal to the system that the possibility for support is shunting forward.

He says that the next step must be an agreement to create a financial mechanism that would distribute any resources that have been pledged. He adds that this figure must be a conjoined with a means of providing debt relief. The legacy response to disasters was loan-based support.

The loss and damage fund is also important because multilateral decisions depend on signals from the international consensus. So, too, do the ambitions and strategies of the donor community.

How will this affect the disaster response? This is what people usually think of when stirred to provide humanitarian or foreign aid. We all know the regularity and the scale of these appeals are rising. The last line is not broken but it is in a deep hole.

The WFP is raising less than half the funds it set out to garner in appeals. In theory there should be an equation. The system both absorbs embryonic initiatives and repairs the gaps in its standing channels.

Mr Laganda poses the enchilada question: can the system in its entirety hold together for the challenges ahead?

The mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage issues are cumulative in their consequences. What we have on the table is a climate crisis and the resulting humanitarian crisis. Cop28’s building blocks are to bundle these with the needed financing to forge a system that works.

Published: December 04, 2023, 4:00 AM
Updated: December 06, 2023, 8:42 AM