by Katharine Vincent, Kulima Integrated Development Solutions
January 8, 2024

The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recently concluded in Dubai.
What key decisions were made that are relevant to FoSTA-Health?

Images courtesy: Katharine Vincent; billow926 on Unsplash; Roman Synkevych on Unsplash

Role of COPs within the UNFCCC process

The COP is the key decision making space for the parties that have signed up to an international agreement. COP28 was attended by nearly 100,000 people, comprising party negotiators from countries and observers. Scheduled to take place from 30th November to 12th December, like many of its predecessors, COP28 ran over schedule, reflecting the ambitious agenda and the complexity of reaching consensus on key issues around both mitigation and adaptation.

Key decisions of COP28

A number of key decisions were heralded as key achievements of the COP, largely relating to the operationalisation of the global stocktake that is included in the Paris Agreement. Nearly every country has agreed to “transition away from fossil fuels” - the first time such wording has been included. The previously-proposed loss and damage fund was agreed, with the first deposits made by UAE and Germany, followed by a number of other countries in the global North. And a framework was agreed to guide adaptation progress under the Global Goal on Adaptation, with confirmed themes including water, food, health, ecosystems, infrastructure, poverty eradication and cultural heritage.

As always with international negotiations such as those under the UNFCCC, multilateralism requires compromises to move ahead, and it is common for decisions and agreements to be critiqued. Many argue, for example, that watering down the commitment from “phase out” to “transition away” from fossil fuels is insufficient to align with the ratcheting ambition mechanism of the Paris Agreement to limit global average temperature increase to 1.5C. The loss and damage fund is only capitalised to a fraction of the anticipated needs, and currently many of the pledges are not additional to climate finance already pledged through different mechanisms.

Strengthened focus on health 

A number of the decisions and foci of COP28 are of significance to FoSTA-Health. Health was a major focus of COP28, with a number of side events and the first ever Health Day and climate-health ministerial. Among other topics, the health day included focus on identifying and scaling adaptation measures to address the impacts of climate on health, including through One Health. One Health is the approach embraced by FoSTA-Health – recognising that optimal health outcomes are achieved when recognising the interconnection between human, plant, animal and environmental health. 

The focus on health led to the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health. Within its broad aim of ensuring better health outcomes in the context of a changing climate, the declaration also includes as an objective “Facilitating collaboration on human, animal, environment and climate health challenges, such as by implementing a One Health approach; addressing the environmental determinants of health; strengthening research on the linkages between environmental and climatic factors and antimicrobial resistance; and intensifying efforts for the early detection of zoonotic spill-overs as an effective means of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”

Non-binding agreement on agriculture and food systems

Also of relevance to FoSTA-Health was the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. Despite agriculture being critical to both mitigation and adaptation, the topic has been conspicuous by its absence in terms of commitments under the UNFCCC. For the first time ever, COP28 organised a Food, Agriculture and Water day that led to a number of commitments.

Commitments made alongside the declaration include a complementary Call to Action for Transforming Food Systems for People, Nature, and Climate signed by non-state actors (including farmers, cities, businesses, civil society), several initiatives to support countries to integrate agriculture and food systems into their climate action plans and Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans, and the Agrifood Sharm-El Sheikh Support Program, which aims to promote agrifood transformations, including through mobilisation of finance.

A particular recognition was made of the role of water. A COP ministerial dialogue on building water-resilient food systems was convened, and a Water and Climate-Resilient Infrastructure Investment Strategy announced to focus on the global South.  

What this means for FoSTA-Health’s activities

Decisions made and the focus of discussion at COP28 highlight that the activities of FoSTA-Health are ever more relevant to the ongoing international policy around climate change under the UNFCCC.

FoSTA-Health is researching multiple aspects of food systems in four southern African countries, including innovative methods for improving soil health and agricultural practices, land acquisitions and investments in irrigation infrastructure, transitions from domestic and local level supply of food to export markets and economy-wide growth, and dietary diversification to improve nutrition. These aspects contribute to the One Health objective in the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health.

FoSTA-Health is also modelling food system transformation pathways relevant to Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia, informed by research outputs and extensive processes of stakeholder engagement in each countries. These transformation pathways will align with the food systems road map presented at COP28 by FAO, and will inform the subsequent regionalisation of this global map, which is due to take place in forthcoming COPs.

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