December 12, 2018 | By Marissa Van Epp

Guest Commentary - Experts Reveal Priority Actions to Transform Food System at COP24

By Marissa Van Epp, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security 
Steps to transform the global food system in order to meet Paris pledges were debated on the sidelines of the United Nations climate conference COP24 in Poland this week, as experts revealed their priority actions relating to policy, technology, climate-smart agriculture investment, soils, and financing.
Current actions to reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint are falling short, with the potential to reach only 21-40 percent of what is required by the Paris Agreement. Farmers are struggling to adapt to a changing climate, and hunger has risen for the third year in a row. Experts united as part of the “Agriculture Advantage 2.0” series to debate solutions to these twin challenges.
Priority actions for policymaking revolved around moving away from linear processes, and encouraging ministries to collaborate to find mutually beneficial solutions for food security and resilience to climate change.  
“The machinery of government is slow, we are not agile and responsive,” commented Dr. Victoria Hatton, Senior Policy Analyst at the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, who indicated that food systems transformation would depend on shifting away from siloed approaches.
Technology offers an “island of hope” for food system transformation, commented Graham Thiele, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas. He emphasized that both “blue sky technologies” such as artificial intelligence and gene editing, and existing technologies like mobiles phones will be game changers for farmers, if they can be harnessed effectively.
The cumulative cost of only adaptation in agriculture between now and 2050 is estimated to be $225 billion globally. It is therefore critical to identify best bets for climate-smart agriculture to prioritise and encourage investments, commented Godefroy Grosjean, Asia Policy Hub Leader at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. He argued that rethinking agricultural subsidies, and how they are used to incentivise the uptake of climate-smart agriculture will be an important step to ensuring effective practices and behaviours are encouraged and scaled up.
Setting targets for increasing soil carbon was highlighted as a priority action for mitigation. Viridiana Alcantara Cervantes, a Technical Advisor at the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food in Germany commented that Uruguay is leading by example, and has set quantitative targets on carbon conservation. Just how much carbon can be sequestered by soil in order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees is still uncertain, but a recent study led by the University of Berkeley has concluded that sequestration of 0.68 Pg C year−1 for 85 years could lower global temperature by 0.1°C in 2100 when combined with a low emission trajectory.
To unlock food systems finance, Dean Cooper of SNV World commented on the need to bring key players together, in order to understand their individual needs. In addition, creative ways to engage the private sector need to be developed in order to bridge the current financing gap for climate-smart agriculture.
The importance of context-specific interventions was also emphasized. “This is truly a story where one size fits all is not going to work. We need to think about differentiated pathways for different types of farmers to improve their livelihoods and climate-smartness,” commented Ana Maria Loboguerrero, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
The discussions built on the momentum of the Koronivia Joint Work for Agriculture, which was launched at COP23 in Bonn last year. Despite agriculture being both a cause and casualty of climate change, the sector did not feature prominently in climate discussions until 2017, when two bodies were given the mandate to consider issues relating to agriculture.
“Agriculture was a toxic issue,” commented Martin Frick Senior Director for Policy and Programme Coordination at the UNFCCC. “This has changed over the space of one year, in a really encouraging way, we see the Koronivia Workshops as a giant trust building measure.”
The Agriculture Advantage 2.0 event series will continue throughout COP24 with in-depth discussions on each of the five pathways towards transformation.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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