COP27’s golden opportunity to save our food systems and avert a climate catastrophe

From devastating storms and floods to record heat waves and droughts, farmers around the world — from Minnesota to Ecuador, from Niger to Kenya — are experiencing the threat of climate change firsthand. The world is also facing the worst food crisis in decades, with over 20 million people on the brink of starvation and 345 million facing acute food insecurity. World hunger and climate change are inextricably linked – both require an urgent transformation of our food systems.

As leaders gather in Egypt this November for COP27, they have a unique opportunity to shift resources and goals toward truly transformative solutions. What’s in the way?

A major obstacle is the lack of funding. A new report from the Global Alliance for the Future of Food finds that food production, processing, consumption and waste accounts for a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions, yet food systems receive only 3 percent of climate finance.

That needs to change. And that’s why McKnight has joined 13 other philanthropic funders to bring our case to COP27 President Sameh for using the summit to ensure food systems get the attention and funding they need.

More than 70 percent of countries are missing specific details on food systems reform in their climate plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). All countries need to set ambitious plans to improve their food systems, based on the needs of local farmers and food networks – and high-emission, high-income countries should provide the financial support to do so.

A good example of the integration of food systems interventions in NDCs can be found in Kenya, where strategies and funding needs for their implementation are clearly identified. Kenya estimates its financial needs at US$60 billion by 2030, 13 percent of which will be funded from domestic resources. That means the remaining 87 percent need international support. This includes mitigation measures such as the expansion of nature-based solutions and climate-smart agriculture, as well as adaptation approaches such as building the resilience of agricultural systems through sustainable management of land, soil and water.

Climate change is happening at a dramatic rate, and current food systems are both a driver and a victim. At the same time, other massive global eruptions – war, political and economic upheaval, and the COVID pandemic – are also having devastating impacts on food systems, underscoring the unsustainability and fragility of current approaches.

This is an opportunity to change our relationship with food for the better, bringing benefits not only for the climate but also for biodiversity, health and food security. Governments must act quickly and systematically to make it easier for farmers to drive local climate solutions that make their farms and livelihoods more resilient, while creating healthy soils, clean water, nutritious food and thriving economies.

Business also has a role to play in creating the enabling environment for agricultural climate solutions to become common practice. In the Midwest, for example, agriculture is the backbone of the rural economy; It is also home to many of the world’s leading agribusinesses. These companies have an opportunity to partner with advocates – partly in light of the upcoming national farm bill – to ensure farming contributes to, not hinders, sustainable practices. What’s being done in the Midwest to help farmers adopt sustainable practices can help transform global food systems.

And while we need big action from governments and businesses, it cannot be overemphasized how directly we rely on the wisdom, ingenuity and leadership of local farmers. When they have a say and share knowledge about the health of their food, water and resources, they too are a force for global change. Farmers create healthy, sustainable food systems that feed families and improve the livelihoods and resilience of entire communities in the face of climate change.

Food is an undeniable human right. We see how fragile our global food systems are and how quickly external shocks can cause food prices to rise and access to food to fall. It is vital that the leaders attending this year’s COP27 shine a spotlight on food systems and beyond – we cannot afford to ignore the climate and humanitarian impacts.

Tonya Allen is President of the McKnight Foundation.

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