Climate change, Environment

COP28 and beyond: Linking agri-food systems, SDGs, and climate action

Against the backdrop of COP28, a pivotal question looms large: Can the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) align with the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5°C? Although the current situation is not in line with the requirements necessary to achieve most of the SDG targets, international commitments have created some optimism.

Charting a course for sustainable agri-food systems

The Food and Agriculture Sustainable Transformation Initiative (FAST), launched at COP27, laid the groundwork for attaining multiple SDGs and places food and agriculture at the forefront of COP28’s critical agenda. Historically, failure to bundle multiple measures, such as climate action, finance, and justice, into agricultural policies and programs has impeded progress across several SDGs.

Given that agriculture is the major sector contributing to the livelihoods of many in developing countries, fostering climate-resilient development in the agriculture sector is crucial for creating a path to attaining multiple SDGs, including zero hunger, climate action (both related to climate change mitigation and adaptation), reduced poverty, life on earth, and gender equality (Barrett 2021). In addition, past agricultural policies have mostly been designed without due consideration to agri-food systems and their relationship with climate change (Barrett et al. 2020; Pingali and Plavšić 2022).

Unresolved challenges

The most pressing challenge lies in ensuring food security for the rising global population amid escalating climate risks and declining natural resources (Rahut et al. 2022). The role of small-scale farmers in feeding the world, as well as in managing natural resources, remains one of the most insufficiently addressed issues (Azadi et al. 2023). Small-scale farmers, responsible for one-third of global food production and nearly 70% of food production the developing world, face insufficient attention. Their challenges, including heightened climate risks, reduced productivity, and limited capacity for adaptation to climate change, have hindered their capacity to contribute to global food security and stability (Aryal et al. 2020).

A critical issue is formulating concrete measures to mobilize adequate climate finance, particularly for poor and small-scale farmers. Despite discussions at COP27, the meager share of climate finance allocated to small-scale agriculture exacerbates the existing gap. The climate finance gap within the agriculture, forestry, and land use (AFLOU) sector is very high because small-scale agriculture receives less than 1% of the total climate finance allocated to the AFLOU sector (Chiriac and Naran 2020). This financial disparity leaves small-scale farmers ill-equipped to cope with climate shocks, rendering them highly vulnerable to climate risks (Azadi et la. 2013).

Past Conferences of the Parties (COPs) have struggled to coordinate concerted efforts to address the challenges faced by the agriculture sector. The focus on climate action in relation to the agriculture sector or AFLOU remains inconsistent, with loss and damage serving as a longstanding point of contention between developed and developing nations. Recognizing that farmers in developing countries bear the brunt of climate change, a concerted effort toward climate action with justice can uplift millions of farmers who operate small farms while largely contributing to global food security. As small farms are pivotal for maintaining biodiversity and acting as carbon sinks, climate finance allocated by countries for adaptation and mitigation, is crucial for incentivizing small farmers to invest in sustainable farming practices. Such support for adaptation and mitigation should come from the countries that have exceeded their carbon budgets.

The way forward

  1. Focus on agri-food systems

Achieving the SDGs and climate goals necessitates strategic actions in agri-food systems. This is crucial for addressing global food security in the face of climate change and rapidly degrading environmental health. Mobilizing climate finance for small-scale agriculture and addressing each level of sustainable agri-food systems can empower poor farmers, reduce food waste, and mitigate losses  (Rahut et al. 2022). COP28’s Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda, emphasizing national leadership, non-state actors, innovation scaling, and finance, instills hope.

Future COPs should integrate food systems and agriculture into national climate change agendas and policies. Despite competing demands for resources, there have been significant efforts from multilateral and bilateral agencies and philanthropic organizations to transform the agricultural food system to meet food and nutritional demand sustainably while adapting to climate risk and contributing to achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Currently, the financial and technological resources available to smallholder farmers to combat climate change are not enough to support changes on a larger scale. Further, discussions and commitments in several forums either do not get translated into action or take longer to be actioned.

  1. Increased global action

Addressing the intertwined challenges of climate change and agri-food systems demands global action. Challenges across production, trade, and consumption require multipronged strategies. Global action must support scaling agri-food system technology to sustainably achieve food and nutritional security amid environmental stress, such as to climate, water, and soil. Failure to secure global action jeopardizes net-zero emissions and exacerbates global food insecurity and malnutrition.

  1. Increased funding and collaboration on agriculture research for development

Recognizing the vital role of agricultural research in generating global public goods and directly benefiting farmers is crucial for sustainability, particularly in ensuring food and nutritional security under climate stress. Strengthening international organizations dedicated to agricultural research and innovation is of paramount importance. Notably, institutions within the Consultative Group of International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) possess invaluable knowledge on agri-food systems, having worked on several crops in diverse agro-ecological settings. This knowledge is pivotal in shaping effective policies and programs. As climate change continues to impact a substantial proportion of the agricultural environment, rendering it marginal and less productive, there is an urgent need for alternative cropping systems and resource-conserving technologies. The role of institutions working in marginal environments, such as the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), has increasingly become more important for addressing agriculture for tomorrow.

In this context, global forums like COP28 and beyond can play a crucial role in convening diverse stakeholders to address humanity’s pressing challenges through a comprehensive and multifaceted approach. A successful transition toward climate-resilient agri-food systems, a pivotal step in achieving multiple SDGs and the Paris climate goals concurrently, requires the active involvement of various stakeholders. This inclusive approach should encompass international development banks (such as the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, African Development Bank, and Islamic Development Bank), international agri-research organizations, agri-value chain actors, national government leaders, and representatives from consumer society leaders. Such a broad initiative can ensure the effective mobilization of climate finance, a thorough reevaluation of the critical research gaps in agri-food systems, exploration of alternative approaches to address these gaps, and the implementation of strategies to reduce food loss and waste at every stage of the system. By engaging a wide array of stake holders, COP28 and similar international forums can pave the way for innovative solutions and collaborative efforts that are vital for global food security and sustainable agriculture development.


COP28 and analogous international forums can play a pivotal role in confronting the intricate challenges at the nexus of climate change and global food security. The collaborative efforts of diverse stakeholders, spanning international development banks, research institutions, agri-value chain actors, government leaders, and consumer society representatives, are essential for charting a sustainable course for agricultural research and development.

Recognizing the critical role of institutions like CGIAR and ICBA is a key stride toward ensuring sustainability, particularly in the face of climate-induced uncertainties. Urgent adaptation measures, such as alternative cropping systems and resource-conserving technologies, are imperative as a substantial portion of agricultural environments becomes marginal and less productive due to climate change.

The proposed comprehensive strategy advocates for the effective mobilization of climate finance, a meticulous reassessment of research gaps in agri-food systems, and the pursuit of alternative approaches to curbing food loss and waste throughout the production chain. COP28’s emphasis on climate-resilient agri-food systems marks a significant stride toward achieving global sustainability objectives, including the SDGs and Paris climate goals.

In essence, COP28 serves as a beacon of hope, fostering collaborative initiatives to address humanity’s pressing challenges. Through collective action, innovation, and shared responsibility, we can navigate the complexities of a changing climate, ushering in a future where agriculture not only adapts to environmental stressors but actively contributes to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world.


Aryal, J. P., T. B. Sapkota, R. Khurana, A. Khatri-Chhetri, D. B. Rahut, and M. L. Jat. 2020. Climate Change and Agriculture in South Asia: Adaptation Options in Smallholder Production Systems. Environment, Development and Sustainability 22(6): 5045–5075.

Azadi, H., S. Ghazali, M. Ghorbani, R. Tan, and F. Witlox. 2023. Contribution of Small-Scale Farmers to Global Food Security: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 103(6): 2715–2726.

Barrett, C. B. 2021. Overcoming Global Food Security Challenges through Science and Solidarity. American Journal of Agricultural Economics 103(2): 422–447.

Barrett, C. B., T. G. Benton, K. A. Cooper, J. Fanzo, R. Gandhi, M. Herrero, S. James, M. Kahn, D. Mason-D’Croz, A. Mathys, R. J. Nelson, J. Shen, P. Thornton, E. Bageant, S. Fan, A. G. Mude, L. M. Sibanda, and S. Wood. 2020. Bundling Innovations to Transform Agri-Food Systems. Nature Sustainability 3(12): 974–976.

Chiriac, D., and B. Naran. 2020. Examining the Climate Finance Gap for Small-Scale Agriculture. Climate Policy Initiative and IFAD.

Pingali, P., and M. Plavšić. 2022. Hunger and Environmental Goals for Asia: Synergies and Trade-Offs Among the SDGs. Environmental Challenges 7, 100491.

Rahut, D. B., J. P. Aryal, N. Manchanda, and T. Sonobe. 2022. Chapter 6 – Expectations for Household Food Security in the Coming Decades: A Global Scenario. In R. Bhat (ed.), Future Foods: 107–131. Academic Press.

Jeetendra Prakash Aryal

About the Author

Jeetendra Prakash Aryal is an economist at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Tetsushi Sonobe

About the Author

Tetsushi Sonobe is Dean and CEO of the Asian Development Bank Institute.
Augusto Becerra Lopez-Lavalle

About the Author

Augusto Becerra Lopez-Lavalle is chief scientist at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Dil Rahut

About the Author

Dil Rahut is vice-chair of research and a senior research fellow at ADBI.

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