News Food for the Planet

134 nations sign Cop28 declaration pledging transformation of food systems for climate change

The declaration marks a significant step in recognising the need to transform global food systems, but is missing clear targets and fails to mention livestock

Firefighters Putting Out a Fire. Credit: from Pexels

Firefighters Putting Out a Fire. Credit: from Pexels

The 5-page Cop28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, the first of its kind, acknowledges the critical role of agriculture and food systems in causing and addressing climate change. It recognises the serious risk to the availability of food, especially for vulnerable communities, and outlines objectives to switch to lower-emissions diets, enhance resilience, improve food security, and support marginalised workers.   

The declaration includes commitments to:  

  • Adopting adaptation measures to improve food resiliance for farmers and fisherfolk 

  • Improving social inclusion, focussing on food security, access, support for vulnerable groups, better public procurement and social safety nets.   

  • Ensuring decent work in food and farming, including for women and young people  

  • Reducing the harmful environmental impacts of the food system, including shifting from higher greenhouse gas-emitting practices to more sustainable production and consumption, good water management, and the conservation of ecosystems and soil  


However, the declaration has faced scrutiny from food experts, including the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (Ipes-Food), for the absence of measurable targets or clear steps to address sustainable diets.  


Ruth Westcott, climate and nature emergency coordinator at Sustain, said:  

“It’s great to see world leaders acknowledging that we have no hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change unless we transform the food we eat and how we farm, but the declaration doesn’t contain any legally-binding targets, or any commitments around phasing out intensive livestock production and consumption. For wealthier countries such as the UK, significant reductions in the production and consumption of meat and dairy and tackling food waste need to be part of our national climate commitments. Richer nations also need to commit to reducing the negative impact of our diets on poorer nations, which are driving deforestation, pollution, and land grabbing.”  

There have been signs that COP28 could represent a turning point for commitments to tackle food emissions, which account for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and is the main reason for biodiversity decline globally, but haven't received due attention in previous conferences. The conference includes a dedicated food and agriculture day on December 10th and at least 22 major events on food, agriculture, and water. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is also due to set out essential changes needed in food systems to meet the 1.5°C temperature rise limit, a first in COP history.  

However, concerns have been raised about the influence of the meat industry, whose lobbying reportedly includes efforts to create “positive livestock content” at COP28. The Guardian recently revealed that pressure from the meat industry led to the FAO diluting reports and burying evidence of the impact of livestock on the climate emergency. There is no specific mention of meat or livestock in the declaration.   

The credibility of the UK government in delivering on the declaration is also a cause for concern, given the high-profile rollback of net zero measures in September and promises to ‘max out’ north Sea Oil. According to the UK Climate Change Committee, the UK does not have a credible plan to reduce food-related emissions as needed to achieve our net-zero commitments, and are facing legal action over this failure. 

Through this declaration, the UK Government has promised to ‘urgently adapt and transform’ the food system. Their commitment will soon be put to the test, with a number of key food and farming policies either in train or due imminently. These include:  

  • Promised standards for public sector food, which could and should ensure public sector meals align with a planet-friendly diet, improve our health, cut food waste and support sustainable farmers  
  • A new Land Use Framework, due in 2023. This framework should set out how the UK will transition to growing lower-emissions food (including more vegetables, pulses and legumes), and farming methods (including nature-friendly and organic) and how the most polluting, intensive livestock production will be phased out.   
  • The Environmental Land Management Scheme, which should link the money paid to farmers by government to clear outcomes including reducing emissions, growing more planet-friendly food and recovering nature. There needs to be a clear pathway for reducing species decline, for example by restoring peatlands and forests. The Environmental Land Management scheme also requires significantly more money to create a just transition for farmers, away from polluting intensive livestock production.
  • Policies to require food businesses to report on food waste, which have been threatened with watering down and faced delays
  • The Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP), which must set clear targets, and require large food businesses to report on their emissions from food supply chains, as well as health and animal welfare.


Ruth Westcott said 

“I hope this declaration represents a turning point for the UK government. We have a collective responsibility to future generations and those in poorer nations that are suffering as a result of our food system. Policies to reduce our reliance on intensively-produced meat, create a more localised food system, and make healthy, sustainable food accessible to everyone would be win for our climate and wildlife, jobs, farmers, and public health.” 

Published Sunday 3 December 2023

Food for the Planet: Food for the Planet is helping local authorities, businesses and organisations take simple actions to tackle the climate and nature emergency through food.

Latest related news

Support our charity

Donate to enhance the health and welfare of people, animals and the planet.


The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

020 3559 6777

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

© Sustain 2024
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies