Nature and Biodiversity

Can COP28 move us towards a new food production model?

A new food system with regeneration at its centre is needed.

A new food system with regeneration at its centre is needed. Image: REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Jack Hurd
Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance, World Economic Forum
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  • Could COP28 be the 'food COP'? A climate summit that focuses on the impact and dependence of our food systems on nature.
  • We need to move towards a new agricultural model that meets the demand for food and related products, but has regeneration at its core.
  • For this new approach to agriculture and food systems to be successful, there needs to be an acceptance of collective responsibility.

There is no net zero without nature – the science in the latest IPCC report makes that abundantly clear. Despite this, the impact and dependence of our food systems on nature has not always been centre stage at the climate COP summits.

Have you read?

There are, however, reports that COP28 could be the ‘food COP’, as the world recognizes the connections between climate and nature, nature and economic growth, and climate, nature and food security.

It is good news that the world is becoming increasingly aware of the links between economic growth and safeguarding the ecosystems upon which we all rely. Recent World Economic Forum reports suggest that nature-positive policies could generate an estimated $10 trillion in new annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030, whilst also restoring and protecting nature.

A new Nature paper also predicts that restoring and protecting forests alone could capture approximately 226 gigatonnes of carbon if they are allowed to recover from degradation and deforestation. That’s equivalent to approximately 23 years of human emissions.

food system jobs business opportunities economy
From the World Economic Forum's New Nature Economy Report II. Image: World Economic Forum

A new food system?

It’s more important than ever that we address the current food systems crisis and move towards a new agricultural model that meets the demand for food and related products, while also helping the global community support its economies and reach net zero and biodiversity targets.

This new food system should have regeneration at its core, ensuring that we’re giving more to nature than we’re taking from it. It needs to focus on intensifying agricultural production – increasing yields per hectare on already converted or degraded lands – in a way that’s sustainable and enhances soil health, preserves water and prevents contaminated water from filling lakes and streams.

This should be complemented by innovative approaches like agroforestry – a land management technique that incorporates shrubs and trees into farmland. This can help to boost production and protect biodiversity simultaneously by providing shade and protection for crops and animals while also improving soil health.

But, for this new approach to be successful, there needs to be an acceptance of collective responsibility – no single entity can do this alone. A recent workshop I attended in Brasilia highlighted a good example of this, focusing on the changes that need to be made in the production model for two really important commodities where Brazil is a global leader: cattle and soy.

Brazil has helped to feed the world with a system that has contributed to significant deforestation. During the workshop sessions, it became increasingly clear to all stakeholders that in order to move the country to a model that helps to meet the global need for food in a way that allows Brazil and the world to meet its climate, nature and SDG commitments, a collective responsibility to drive change must be acknowledged.

The private sector needs to understand the direct and indirect impact it has on decisions made on the ground. Government must set the enabling policy and regulatory environment to motivate decisions. The finance sector and philanthropic, bilateral and multilateral donors must all play their part by providing the liquidity to underwrite the change. Civil society groups need to help to develop the analytics, tools and technical assistance to facilitate change.

This multistakeholder approach, which takes care to engage Indigenous Peoples and local communities and adequately address social justice concerns, is crucial to driving the sustainable agricultural intensification required to meet each industry and each country’s specific needs.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

We know this model works and we have seen great progress made since COP26 in a variety of sectors, not least through the Agriculture Sector Roadmap to 1.5°C. This brings together major traders across soy, palm oil and cattle in a commitment to addressing deforestation and ecosystem conversion.

But more needs to be done: governments, the private sector and civil society all need to acknowledge and act on their collective responsibility before real, systemic change across the global food system can take place.

I hope that as COP28 progresses, we see governments and business leaders move from declarations to acknowledgement and action, so that we can begin to affect the change necessary to halt biodiversity loss and protect and restore nature.

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Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityIndustries in DepthFood and WaterClimate Action
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