Skip to main content

As I write this, I’m eating a piece of toast. As you read this, you may be eating something too. All 8.1 billion of us need food. Just like other types of consumption, such as oil and gas, our food consumption requires and releases energy. In fact, the food system is responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.

two brown cows grazing in a field

Why we’re all talking about food

It therefore makes sense that food is a central focus of the climate Conference of the Parties (CoP28) taking place at the moment in Dubai.

The CoP28 theme today is ‘Food and Agriculture’, which is a good opportunity to put down my toast and highlight some of the food and agriculture discussions at CoP28, and what they mean for wild plants and fungi.

Wild plants and fungi – not just for lunch, but for climate

We rely on wild plants and fungi for so much, however they are the overlooked centrepieces at the heart of all ecosystems.

Take grasslands: the livelihoods of around 800 million people depend on them and they cover more than 50% of the world’s land.

Imagine nomadic reindeer herders navigating the Steppes in Mongolia, or small-scale pastoralists grazing their livestock on Kenyan savannahs. Humans are part of a virtuous Venn diagram, with grasslands at the centre:

  • food is produced from the livestock
  • the livestock provide the grazing needed to maintain a balanced grassland ecosystem
  • the healthy ecosystem stores carbon and is also more resilient to the impacts of climate change
Small square hay bailer in field

But not all agriculture is equal…

It’s important to differentiate this approach to grassland management from the more intensive farming, that shatters the mutualistic relationship between people and the natural environment.

Intensive, large-scale agriculture relies on greenhouse gas-emitting synthetic fertilisers and ploughing, with tightly packed livestock damaging the sensitive flora and degrading the soil.

That’s why we’re looking to world leaders at CoP28 to recognise the value of healthy grasslands and savannahs as part of a sustainable food system, that helps boost biodiversity and tackle climate change.

We need joined-up action across governments and their policies tackling farming, food security, public health, nature & net zero.

CoP28 announcement

At CoP28, 134 countries have signed up to the United Arab Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, committing to integrate food into their climate plans by 2025.

This could be an important step towards real action to bring down emissions from global agriculture, in tandem with supporting farmers, pastoralists, and smallholders who farm in a low-carbon way.

However, alongside real action there’s also real risk – of greenwashing. We should be sceptical of subsidies that still go towards funding intensive agriculture, or untested technological solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We’ll be watching how governments put this Declaration into practice.

Food for thought

Of course, it remains to be seen whether governments will make tangible commitments to actually shift food production away from intensive agricultural practices.

Will governments stop harmful agricultural subsidies and instead pay and support less intensive farming, that helps restore swathes of degraded grassland?

Will they ignore the huge farming and fertiliser lobby to help farmers break free from costly input cycles?

Will the rights of indigenous people and local communities to their land and traditional pastoralism be respected?

We want the protection, sustainable management, and restoration of healthy grasslands to be meaningfully incorporated into countries’ climate and biodiversity strategies.  

As I finish my meal, these are the questions I will ponder ahead of CoP28’s final few days. The solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises are by no means bitesize, but I have hope, if we’re all sat together at the same table. 

Jo Riggall

Relevant to COP28

Why nature is an important part of the climate conversation
Blogbird standing in a field of grass

Why nature is an important part of the climate conversation

Our Global Advocacy Coordinator, Claire Rumsey, shares her experience at COP28 understanding the role of nature and Indigenous Peoples in the climate conversation.

The Importance of Grasslands Globally
Briefing Document

The Importance of Grasslands Globally

This WWF & Plantlife document makes the case for the world to recognise the vital role that grasslands and savannahs can play in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises.

Planting Plant Conservation at the Core of COP28 Climate Talks
Press Release

Planting Plant Conservation at the Core of COP28 Climate Talks

We are teaming up with WWF (the World Wide Fund for Nature) at COP28 to press for better recognition of grasslands and savannahs, alongside other habitats.

We are Heading to Dubai for Global Climate Talks
BlogPerson wearing a hat smiling

We are Heading to Dubai for Global Climate Talks

Our Global Advocacy Coordinator, Claire Rumsey, will be at COP28 to speak up for the vital role of wild plants and fungi in the fight against climate change

Wild Plants and Fungi are at the Heart of Climate Crisis
Our PositionA Marbled White butterfly sitting on a clover in a meadow

Wild Plants and Fungi are at the Heart of Climate Crisis

At Plantlife, we are focused in gaining recognition for grassland ecosystems around the world as nature-based solutions to the climate crisis. Storing between 25-35% of the world’s terrestrial carbon, they are an underutilised resource.