Workers pack bags with rice in Vietnam's Yen Bai province on July 27, 2022. (Photo: Nhac Nguyen / AFP)

COP27 and G20: Climate-Food Nexus Takes the Spotlight

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Two recent international gatherings — COP27 and G20 — have spotlighted the challenge of climate change and the impact on food security. As a highly vulnerable region, Southeast Asia needs to take urgent steps to adapt its agriculture and food systems, to prepare for a more disruptive future.

As the world welcomed its 8th billionth member under conditions of a 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer world, two major conferences sought to deal with two pressing global challenges of climate change and food security.

The Cover Decision at the 27th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change in Egypt (COP27) and the Leader’s Declaration at the G20 Leaders’ Summit meeting in Indonesia highlighted the concern for food (and energy) security, exacerbated by climate change and current conflicts. 

The decisions and actions of the G20 and COP27 are pertinent for Southeast Asia’s food security. Already one of the regions hardest hit by climate change, Southeast Asia’s agricultural yields will continue to be impacted. Trade disruptions and geopolitical conflicts are also expected to continue to affect the flow of food supply. 

Strengthening the resilience and sustainability of food systems was a key message from both summits. COP27 dedicated 12 November 2022 as its Adaptation and Agriculture Day, and concurrently, a Global Food Security Forum was held preceding the G20. 

Southeast Asian countries are among the world’s largest importers of wheat and import significant amounts of soybean and maize, thus making them particularly vulnerable to agricultural supply disruptions. The region needs to increase its self-sufficiency through shorter and inclusive supply chains and greater domestic food production. 

COP27 and G20 highlighted the need for solutions to close yield gaps in existing farms. In Southeast Asia, this means addressing the 100 million smallholder family farms that provide more than 75 per cent of the region’s food. Positive announcements at COP27 to improve agriculture included the raising of an investment commitment to US$8 billion under the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) for climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation. Additional grants made available: a US$1.4 billion grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa, and ten grants totally US$11 million to scale up indigenous and regenerative agriculture by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The dependency on synthetic fertilisers has caused concern, due to supply shortages from the war in Ukraine and movement control measures for Covid-19. Both the G20 and COP27 called for the secure supply of fertilisers, but also noted it would be a near-term solution as this will intensify fossil fuel emissions. Both the COP27 and the Global Food Security Forum preceding the G20 called for more regenerative or agroforestry solutions. These have the additional benefits of contributing to equitable and just outcomes for indigenous and resident communities. 

The scope and intensity of the problems in the climate: food nexus are so immense that all these initiatives remain “drops in the ocean” which, if properly implemented will help. But ultimately local and national level political and policy support are needed to make an impact.

The carbon footprint in agriculture is large and needs to be decarbonised urgently. A 2021 study found that even if all fossil fuel emissions ceased, emissions from the food and agriculture sector would push the world past the 1.5-degree Celsius Paris Agreement target. 

In Southeast Asia, the issue of agriculture-originated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions needs to be addressed, given that rice production is the highest contributor of such emissions. However, rice yields are under threat by climate related impacts — potentially declining by as much as 50 per cent by 2100. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has also warned that rice production must increase by 5 million tonnes annually to keep up with population needs. Beyond rice, the movement to energy-intensive food production systems such as alternative proteins, controlled environment agriculture, and new cold chains will contribute to greater GHG emissions. There is therefore an urgent need to take steps toward carbon neutral agriculture. In October 2022, Temasek subsidiary fund GenZero, Wavemaker Impact and Bill Gates Foundation’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures announced an agritech venture that would focus on rice decarbonisation in Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia. More of such initiatives will be needed to overhaul the entire food system.  

Another important outcome from COP27 was the creation of a “Loss and Damage Fund”. This could potentially be utilised for emergency relief for future agriculture losses, which are increasing in scale from climate disasters, as seen in the 2022 Pakistan and Nigeria floods.

Other programmes launched to support food security measures included the Global Food and Nutrition Security Dashboard by the World Bank-led Global Alliance for Food Security. The dashboard provides country- and subregional-level data on food crisis severity, financing options, and innovative research to strengthen crisis response and resilience, providing policy makers and other stakeholders with harmonised information. The International Finance Corporation launched a US$6 billion financing platform to strengthen the private sector’s ability to respond to the crisis and help support food production. Recognising that availability and access to climate finance at farm and country levels remain inadequate, the COP27 presidency announced the “Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation” (FAST) programme “to improve the quantity and quality of climate finance contributions to transform agriculture and food systems by 2030”. 

The scope and intensity of the problems in the climate: food nexus are so immense that all these initiatives remain “drops in the ocean” which, if properly implemented will help. But ultimately local and national level political and policy support are needed to make an impact.

Much of this region’s future stability depends on our ability to feed ourselves in the coming decades. Summits such as these, though often derided as talk fests, play an irreplaceable role to galvanise collective commitment and action. The increasing availability of financial resources is a boon, but prudent and responsible implementation programmes are required to unlock them. Southeast Asian nations’ close partnerships will be key to meeting the intensifying headwinds ahead. 

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Elyssa Kaur Ludher is Visiting Fellow with the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme, ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.


Paul Teng is an Associate Senior Fellow in the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.