What is COP 27 and Why it Matters

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) is the 27th U.N. Climate Change conference that was held from November 6th until November 18 in Egypt. Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, every country in the treaty is bound to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system” and find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally in an equitable way. COP is short for “Conference of the Parties,” and the annual meetings were held to initiate global cooperation on climate change. 

The world is facing a myriad of environmental challenges, such as extreme weather, an energy crisis accelerated by the war in Ukraine, and continuous sea-level rise. Yet, scientific data repeatedly indicated that the global effort to protect our planet is inadequate. Last year’s COP 26, held five years after the Paris agreement, ended with the adaptation of the “Glasgow Climate Accord,” in which nations agreed to strengthen efforts to build resilience to climate change. Alok Sharma, a British politician who served as the President of COP26, praised the progress at COP 26, but emphasized that the momentum towards climate action is “weak, and it will only survive if we keep our promises.

Food Crisis in Africa

One of the focal points of COP 27 was the resiliency of food systems. 139 million people experienced food insecurity in 24 countries or territories in 2021. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine has further exposed the fragility of global food systems. COP 27 was held in Africa this year, and world leaders have placed a greater focus on climate justice, especially for developing countries in the region. Past COPs have given little recognition to food systems. Only 3% of public climate finance goes toward food systems, which is 22 times less than the amount directed to the energy and transport sectors. Funding for food systems to adapt to climate change needs to be a priority. The Horn of Africa is currently suffering through a historic drought that is threatening 22 million people with starvation, while flooding in August is affecting 17 countries in West and Central Africa, displacing more than 3.4 million people with limited access to food. 

News reports on these food crises demonstrate the need for greater prioritization of agriculture in Africa as a frontline humanitarian response to reduce access constraints and foster sustainable development. Food supplies and prices are especially vulnerable to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa and East Africa due to a lack of resilience to climatic events. The majority of the population in rural communities cannot afford the infrastructure to protect their agricultural field from adverse weather. For instance, much of the croplands depend on rain to water crops, and just 6 percent of arable land is equipped with irrigation. COP 27 can provide vital resources in support of the African Union’s Green Recovery Action Plan, which aims to address the combined challenges of the COVID-19 recovery and climate change. According to the Food and Land Use Coalition, we need $300 to $350 billion per year to implement actions essential to transform our food systems. African leaders are looking to the COP 27 to make significant progress to improve food systems. 

Climate change adaptation measures should be integrated into the transformation of food systems. African policymakers are looking to expand access to foods, ensure food system resilience at a time of increasing threats, and develop sustainable food production. By 2030, up to 118 million people living in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 per day) in Africa could be exposed to extreme weather and natural disaster. Each flood or drought in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to increase food insecurity by 5-20 percentage points. The vulnerability of Africa presents the failure of policy and developing strategy by the world.

COP 27 Outcome and Future Work

COP 27 placed historic attention on the food crisis and agriculture to expand awareness and coalition buildings. For instance, negotiation day (Adaptation and Agriculture Day on November 12th) was focused entirely on agriculture for the first time in COP history. Moreover, there were five pavilions (the most number of pavilions in COP history) established to focus on agriculture and food security. One of these pavilions was the Food and Agriculture Pavilion, hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), CGIAR, and The Rockefeller Foundation. These pavilions succeeded in putting the transformation of agrifood systems at the heart of the COP agenda for the first time. Additionally, COP 27 made some announcements of initiatives that would improve food systems around the world. 

First, the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation initiative (FAST) was launched to improve the quantity and quality of climate finance contributions to transform agriculture and food systems by 2030. This initiative would support adaptation and maintain a 1.5-degree pathway while improving food and economic security. Second, Egypt and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the launch of the Initiative on Climate Action and Nutrition (I-CAN), which recognizes the relationship between nutrition and the climate crisis. The goal is to integrate climate change adaptation with nutrition and sustainable food systems to support mutually beneficial outcomes. Lastly, an $18 trillion coalition of investors, led by Jeremy Coller’s FAIRR initiative, mobilized the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to establish a climate roadmap for the food and agriculture sector by next year’s COP. It will outline guidelines for the industry to stay within a 1.5°C pathway, be climate-resilient, and address food security goals.

Without transformations of food systems, which accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, the world won’t be able to feed people and achieve sustainable development simultaneously. There is still a need for discussions on how to establish a resilient food supply chain and tackle inequality in access to food. However, COP 27 marked an essential first step toward the climate and food security goals.