Between November 6th and 20th, world leaders, policy-makers, researchers and practitioners convened in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt for the 27th Conference of Parties (COP) to discuss actions and policies related to Climate Change. Whilst the vast variety of sessions were dominated by carbon-zero, fossil-fuel consumption and deforestation debates, increasing attention was given to address the climate change impact in Agriculture, Nutrition and Health (ANH) – a much needed improvement from the COP26 conference (1).
As the global leader of WWF’s food practice, João Campari, puts it “We can phase out fossil fuels, but we can’t phase out food, so we have to transform food systems.” However, he further points out that today “[we’re] where energy was 30 years ago, yet we don’t have 30 years to make the change” (2). This is a fair concern considering that less than 12% of national policies across the globe consider climate, biodiversity and nutrition and only 32% of National Action Plans (NAPs) and few Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) include nutrition or food security related adaption actions (3).
However, as COP27 comes to an end, international organizations are committing to double down their efforts to bolster nutrition-sensitive climate action. But what was (and was not) actually covered by the conference? This blog touches upon some of the many questions left in the aftermath of COP27.
COP27 Nutrition-Sensitive Climate Action in a Nutshell
There were a few noteworthy triumphs and oversights throughout the conference discourse.
A day dedicated to Agriculture & Adaptation
For the first time, COP has dedicated a full day to Agriculture & Adaption (November 12th, 2022). This day delved into the short- and long-term transformations required for sustainable food chain development to enable producers to make the most out of future conditions. During this day there were discussions on:
agroecology, regenerative agriculture and other innovative approaches being used by a diverse group of food producers;
the contributions of food loss and waste reduction to global emissions and adaption efforts;
the role of digital technologies in increasing sustainable productivity of farmlands to boost the security and resilience of the global food system;
the importance of sustainable health diets and how adjustments can improve production, environment, nutrition and life;
the importance of crop genetic diversity to ensuring a resilient global food system (4).
Pavilions dedicated to ANH
There were 5 event spaces (aka “pavilions”) in the Blue Zone, the most notable being the Food & Agriculture Pavilion, run by CGAIR (5). The pavilions convened community leaders alongside government, philanthropic, youth and academic partners from across the globe. The sessions aimed to advance a shared understanding of the world’s most pressing food and agriculture issues and to share knowledge and innovative solutions. Session recordings can be found on the pavilion website.
Programmes launched during the conference
A variety of programs were launched during the conference, including:
The Food & Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) initiative, launched by the FAO (6). This initiative aims to improve the quantity and quality of climate finance contributions to transform agriculture and food systems by 2030. It seeks to do so by supporting adaptation to maintain a 1.5-degree pathway whilst supporting food and economic security. The FAST initiative will be a multi-stakeholder partnership catalysing the agrifood system transformation and build upon ongoing global and regional initiatives and coalitions.
The Initiative on Climate Action and Nutrition (I-CAN) has now been launched by the WHO (3). As a multisectoral and multistakeholder flagship, the initiative aims to foster collaboration that accelerates transformative action addressing critical gaps in the climate change and nutrition nexus. It seeks to do so by supporting Member States to deliver climate change adaption and mitigation policy action that simultaneously improves nutrition via healthier diets and sustainable food systems
The Net-zero roadmap for Food, launched by the FAIRR initiative in partnership with the FAO (7). The campaign organisers – backed by investors representing 18 trillion USD of combined assets – have welcomed the FAO’s commitment to create a roadmap for aligning the global food system to a limit of 1.5°C global warming. The aim is to publish this by COP28.
The Global Food & Nutrition Security Dashboard, launched by the World Bank and offers up-to-date global and country-level data related to food crisis severity, global food security financing and innovative research (8). The platform aims to encourage research and strengthen crisis response and resilience.
Considering the barriers in current actions on nutrition and climate change outlined by the WHO (9) and summarized by the recent Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN) scoping review (10), COP27 has begun to address some challenges to nutrition-sensitive climate action. – particularly regarding governance & leadership, information systems and finance. Figure 1 summarizes key actions required to strengthen the linkages between nutrition and climate change, given by each pillar of the WHO health system (9,10) and indicates the extent to which COP27 events & initiatives address existing barriers.
Figure 1: Summary of key actions required to strengthen linkages between nutrition and climate change across the WHO health system pillars, adapted from
That said, these initiatives are only a start and do not comprehensively address the concerns voiced by researchers. Some gaps observed in the COP27 ANH discussions include:
- Loss & Damage Funding Agreement: One of the breakthrough agreements from COP27 was the provision of “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters
(11). While met with much praise, the financing plan and remit is unclear – especially in regards to how the funds will be nationally distributed and the extent to which they may aid nutrition and food security impacts of climate disasters.
- National level agreements: While the advancements in governance and leadership for ANH and climate change agendas are noticeable and appreciated, commitments to incorporate nutrition into national level adaption & mitigation plans are unclear.
- The content covered: Despite on the spotlight given to fossil fuel usage, emissions and net-zero carbon in the conference, there was essentially no discussion on how to reduce emissions along the entire food chain and for the global food system
- Interdisciplinary language: The language used during the conference is very vague and generic, so specific action plans for proposed initiatives are ambiguous. Perhaps this can be attributed to the lack of common ground between the different factions of Climate Change and ANH research. However, compared to other interdisciplinary discussions on other conference topics, the ANH-Climate change nexus falls considerably short – indicating a need to bolster efforts in this area.
- Evidence-based suggestions: Adding to the previous point, while there was a lot of conversation on why nutrition-sensitive climate action is necessary, there were fewer specifics on how we can do so. This may be attributed to the lack of evidence for nutrition sensitive climate adaptation/mitigation strategies, which makes it difficult to incorporate nutrition into future NDCs and NAPs. There was some guidance given on the role of small- to medium sized enterprises in improving food systems
(12); but little attention was provided to furthering research agendas.
Takeaways for ANH Researchers & Practitioners
If there is one thing to take away from COP27 as an ANH researcher, it is the clear gap between Climate Change and ANH disciplines. While not explicit stated, a big challenge for the COP27 conference was the lack of integrated language for research approaches, data collection strategies, and methods. As researchers, we can improve upon this so there is more common ground to productively develop upon in such high level policy settings. This could be done through three distinct ways:
- Reinforce the collection of spatially explicit data at more frequent data collection intervals. Climate Change and ANH disciplines have very different data collection methods and metrics. Environmental variables are typically collected frequently and at various spatial levels, so aggregation techniques are avoided to prevent compromises in interpretability. ANH data on the other hand, tends to be collected via surveys, which benefits from detail, but has lower temporal frequencies and suffers from aggregation.
- Innovating, adaption or updating methods and metrics to better address Climate Change and ANH research questions. Although there’s work being done to address this, it is heavily contingent on the sufficient data availability and compilation.
- Integrate Climate Change and ANH frameworks to standardize and facilitate more uniform approaches between the two respective disciplines. There are many conceptual frameworks explaining the complex pathways between Climate Change and Nutrition. However, working frameworks for practitioners are not as refined since there is a lack of evidence on how to best respond to different climate exposures along the various pathways. Progress here, again, hinges on data and method development.
Overall, COP27 was a step up for ANH discussions and policy-making, although, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. While the conference ended with promising commitments to integrate nutrition into climate action, there are a few subliminal takeaways particularly regarding integrated data compilation and methods/metrics. Thankfully a lot of research is being made in these areas, and it will be interesting to see how research will shape COP28 and other international policy decisions.
With the end of COP27, we can pay attention the current ongoing UN Biodiversity conference (COP 15) - December 7th – 17th 2022. While similar to COP27, COP15 aims to stop biodiversity loss and build a sustainable relationship with nature in response to unprecedented degradation of nature and species extinction. This is particularly important for ANH, as Elizabeth Maruma Mrema (executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity) points out “The food we eat comes from biodiversity, the water we drink comes from biodiversity” (16). The programme has several sessions related with ANH topics, such as agroecology, sustainable wildlife, build resilience to climate change and indigenous led climate solutions, to name a few.
Kicking off with protests led by anti-capitalist and ecological activists, the COP15 is already being accused of failing to address biodiversity issues and that agreements are “little more than lip-service” (17). So far it is difficult to identify the concrete outcomes of the conference, however, we do see parallels between COP27 in terms of advancing governance, leadership and information – most notably for indigenous populations. As the conference continues to unfold, we look forward to hear about the developments and agreements that will come out from COP15.
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