Guest Posts

Financing Food Fast: Take-Aways from COP28

As I write this, still on the ground in Dubai, I am struck by so many swift moves to bring sustainable food systems change through diversified proteins to the forefront of not just the climate conversation, but the climate strategy and execution conversation. As I come down from my four speaking engagements in the Blue Zone, I can’t believe the rapid zeitgeist shift, writes Elysabeth Alfano.

Only last year, when I spoke at COP27, I was pushing to be heard, along with dedicated colleges at the Food4Climate, Food Systems pavilions, The Good Food Institute (GFI), Mighty Earth, Food Tank, FAIRR and so many others that food systems transition was not only key to the climate change conversation, but that we simply couldn’t hold on to any aspirations of 1.5C without it.

Fast-forward a year and we skipped a beat! Food went from not being noticed to an important seat at the table for both importance and discussions on key next steps: we must finance food fast. As someone who has worked in and talked about this solution for almost a decade now, it is surreal to wake up one day – seemingly almost from one day to the next in early December 2023 – and see that the world, collectively and in unison, is now focused on financing protein diversification for Climate Change, biodiversity loss and deforestation and food security. In short, the words on the tips of many tongues at COP28 was blended finance for protein diversification as part of sustainable food systems transformation at all stages of the supply chain.

COP28 tipping point
Image supplied by the author

Highlights of COP28 from a food perspective

1. Sustainable Food Systems and Protein Diversification
As of writing, 154 countries have pledged to set food-based targets in their next Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), marking a level of commitment the food systems community couldn’t have foreseen this time last year at COP27. NDCs are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of its long-term goals. NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. They are non-binding.

According to the WWF, negotiations on how much each country will commit will pick up in June 2024. Investing in sustainable food systems transformation utilizing the foundational pillar of diversified proteins through innovation from plants, microbial fermentation, and cultivated meat is 3x-40x more impactful at reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions than investing in other green technologies, according to the Boston Consulting Group. This is primarily due to lower CapEx spending needed, which makes food systems transformation the low-hanging fruit, as it were, in impacting climate change.

2. Initial Paths to Implementation
According to associates at the World Resources Institute, more than $2.5 billion worth of financial commitments to support the implementation of the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action was announced. This included the UAE and Gates Foundation’s announcement of $200m to support CGIAR research and the new Aim4Scale mechanism, led by Her Excellency Almheiri and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsak, which will accelerate AgTech for a climate-resilient, food secure and 1.5C world.

3. Human and Planetary Health
Health finally became part of the climate discussions with the launch of the COP28 Declaration on Climate and Health, which highlighted the need for sustainable protein diversification away from meat, among other things, for both human and planetary health. This, along with the food declaration noted above, put efficient, sustainable nutrition at the heart of the climate fight.

Infographic by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Courtesy of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

4. Food Loss and Waste
Food loss and waste, a huge driver in emissions, was highlighted as a key area for philanthropy to “take a big bite out of the climate crisis” thanks to a new roadmap detailing more than $300m in ready-to-fund investments in seven pivotal countries, according to the World Resources Institute.

5. Financing Food Fast
While sustainable food systems transformation including Plant-based Innovation currently receives 2%-4.8% of Climate funding, the food and agriculture system is responsible for 30% of the world’s emissions, and animal agriculture is 60% of this.

According to Geeta Sethi, Subject Matter Expert on Food Systems at the World Bank, $300-$400 billion of blended public and private capital is needed over the next 10-15 years to shift to sustainable food systems as a matter of urgency for human and planetary health. She furthered that the external costs of our current food system that are pushed to the consumer in the form of taxes for damages such as eutrophication, health care costs, and environmental damage are a stunning 10% of global GDP, approximately $12.7 trillion.

“We are at the end of the beginning”

Mahesh Roy of IIGCC, an investor organization focused on Climate Change, noted that capital will flow from the private sector into food transformation as it has into the energy sector. As paraphrased, ‘Keep it simple. Show people the data around the inefficiency of the current food system and they will find the opportunity to make money. Show them the added benefit of impact and the trillions will flow.” In this manner, and to quote, Dr. Rhian-Mari Thomas, CEO of the Green Finance Institute, “We are at the end of the beginning.”

AIM panel at COP28
Image supplied by the author

With the world focused on the terror of having pushed through six of the nine planetary boundaries, with biodiversity loss driven by agriculture at risk of never replenishing, and also surpassing five of the seven tipping points, focusing on investing in food systems transformation which requires lower spending and can have faster results while addressing at least one-third of the climate issue and even more of the biodiversity and health concerns makes addressing food systems transformation and protein diversification an attractive target.

“Food systems will now be center stage in all future COPs”

In closing, from Her Excellency, Mariam Almheiri, The United Arab Emirates Minister for Climate Change and the Environment: “Even if you were able to fix the just energy transition and go completely renewable, you still wouldn’t be able to reach the 1.5 degrees if you don’t solve the food systems issue. That’s how big of a cause this is. Food systems will now be center stage in all future COPs.”

She also shared at one of the ending presentations on stage with the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsak, her partner in Aim4C. “We have the bigger issue that Secretary Vilsak and I always think about, day on day, as the population is rising: Will we have enough food? Will we have enough protein for all? So, that’s why technologies and innovations are so good. We need to look at a lot of the alternatives as well; alternatives that are more sustainable, that don’t need so much water, that don’t need so much land and that don’t throw out methane emissions, and that’s why things like alternative proteins are very important.”

Her panel talk is here. The United Nations Environment Programme document launched at COP28 on sustainable food systems transformation is here, and the 90 second video is here. 

Elysabeth Alfano is the CEO of VegTech™ Invest, the Advisor to the publicly traded Plant-based Innovation & Climate fund, EATV. She is also a consultant for multinational and start-up food companies. She hosts the Plantbased Business Hour podcast and the Upside & Impact: Investing for Change podcast distributed by the New York Stock Exchange. She is a frequent contributor to CAIA, ESG Clarity, FinTech TV and vegconomist magazine.

ClosePlease login
See all bookmarks