Keough School expert to play key role in COP28 climate talks on food systems

Climate change research has typically focused on the energy sector and the need to adopt cleaner technologies to power homes, cars and factories. But a growing awareness of how our food systems contribute to global warming has brought increasing numbers of agriculture experts to the discussion table. 

For the first time in history, agriculture is part of the 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) discussions. Paul Winters, associate dean for academic affairs at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame and executive director of the Innovation Commission for Climate Change, Food Security and Agriculture, attended COP28 and led part of those discussions at the conference.

Known as the world’s highest decision-making conference on climate issues, COP28 hosted more than 70,000 delegates to discuss climate action among 197 countries, plus the European Union and thousands of nongovernmental stakeholders. This year’s conference took place Nov. 30 through Dec. 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“Agriculture is one of the industries that both contributes to climate change and is also most impacted by it,” Winters said. “But this has not traditionally been recognized by those addressing the issue. Having a global platform that includes people from multiple sectors is a game changer when it comes to addressing climate change while also protecting some of our most vulnerable populations.”

Prior to presenting at COP28, Winters discussed agriculture and climate change at “The Road to COP28: Agricultural Innovations to Address Climate Change and Food Security,” a public event on Nov. 16 at the Keough School of Global Affairs Washington Office. He was joined by Sen. Debbie StabenowCary Fowler, special envoy for global food security in the Office of Global Food Security at the U.S. Department of State; Chavonda Jacobs-Young, under secretary for research, education and economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and William R. Sutton, global lead for climate smart agriculture and lead agricultural economist at the World Bank. 

Agriculture and climate change

The agricultural food system—from production to consumption—contributes 25 to 33 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, ranking it second only to energy in terms of total emissions, according to research led by the European Commission Joint Research Centre.

Furthermore, around 1.23 billion people are employed in the world’s agricultural food systems, and almost half of the world’s population lives in households linked to these systems, according to research conducted by Winters and his collaborators.

While researchers have now begun to report on the impact agriculture has on climate change, Winters said previous solutions proposed for addressing climate change could negatively impact some of the world’s poorest populations whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. 

With research showing that climate change continues to push millions of people into extreme poverty—the majority due to the impact on agriculture—Winters said researchers and activists focused on climate change, and those working in agriculture, are now starting to converge around the idea of food system transformation.

“The goal is to scale agriculture and climate innovations globally that will both address climate change and help people and countries who rely on agriculture,” Winters said. 

The COP28 presidency called on leaders to sign the Declaration on Resilient Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action, which calls on countries to address the interlinked challenges across climate change and the food system in their climate action plan. 

“The food space can be very political, with different points of views across countries,” Winters said. “But the one thing that can bring them all together is innovation. By using innovation to address food systems and climate change, we can tackle some of our biggest climate issues while not only avoiding negatively impacting some of the world’s poorest populations, but actually helping them.”

Alongside these efforts, in conjunction with COP28, Winters and members of the Innovation Commission for Climate Change, Food Security and Agriculture have identified seven innovation areas with evidence-based pathways to benefit the millions of farmers whose lives and livelihoods are impacted by climate change.

The seven innovation areas include:

  • Improved weather forecasts to help farmers manage increased weather variability and improve agricultural decisions.
  • Digital agricultural extension services to provide customized and timely information to farmers at a low cost. 
  • Climate-responsive social protection programs to help households anticipate weather shocks, overcome extreme poverty and develop resilience.
  • Training to promote rainwater harvesting techniques to help reduce land degradation, increase crop yields and combat desertification. 
  • Microbial fertilizers to reduce emissions from synthetic fertilizer production while helping farmers increase productivity. 
  • Innovations to reduce livestock methane emissions through improved feeding management, feed additives and genomic selection.
  • Alternative proteins to provide a low-emissions, low-cost and high-quality source of proteins.

Winters said he is heartened by the fact that food systems will play such a prominent role in the discussions leading up to and during COP28. He hopes that the high-level climate talks taking place in Dubai will draw additional attention to the need for making food systems more sustainable and equitable while also alleviating the negative environmental effects.

“Food systems play a crucial role in society and should be at the forefront of global conversations around climate change,” Winters said. “The fact that agriculture is a part of COP28 is an important step in the right direction.”

Contact: Tracy DeStazio, associate director of media relations, 574-631-9958 or

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