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UAE places global transformation to sustainable agricultural and food systems at the top of its agenda priorities during COP28: Mariam Almheiri – Sustainability

UAE places global transformation to sustainable agricultural and food systems at the top of its agenda priorities during COP28: Mariam Almheiri - Sustainability

Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and COP28 Food Systems Lead, confirmed that UAE places the global transformation to sustainable agricultural and food systems at the top of its agenda priorities during the COP28, scheduled to be held in the UAE later this month.

This came during Almheiri’s participation in the panel discussion entitled “COP28: “The Importance of Promoting Sustainable Food Systems”, organised by Trends Research and Advisory at the Grand Hall of Sharjah International Book Fair.

The panel was presented by Alyazia Al Hosani, Director of the Media Communication Office at TRENDS Research and Advisory. The discussion was moderated by Sumaya Al Hadhrami, Deputy Director of TRENDS Global Sector.

Almheiri indicated that traditional food systems cause about 33% of total global greenhouse gas emissions and climate changes resulting in enormous agricultural and food challenges, mainly water scarcity and lack of arable land. She said that food loss and waste is a global issue requiring behavioural changes at the consumer level.

For that purpose, the UAE launched the National Food Security Strategy 2051, an ambitious vision to transform the UAE into a leading global hub in the field of innovation-based food security.

She added that the UAE is turning to emerging technologies and innovative cultivation methods, such as controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) and developing drought-tolerant crops.

The minster indicated that technology and innovation are important to help make tangible progress in transforming food systems, along with encouraging farmers to diversify crops, to enhance the resilience of agricultural systems in the face of climate fluctuations.

Ambitious Plan

Regarding the desired global outcomes of the Conference of COP28, which will lead to strengthening sustainable food systems, Almheiri said that the food systems issue will be at the top of the COP28 agenda.

That is why we launched “the COP28 Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda” last July, an ambitious plan to transform global food systems and ensure their sustainability.

The current food system besides causing a significant proportion of global emissions, contributes to biodiversity loss, deforestation and drought, freshwater pollution, and the collapse of aquatic wildlife.

The minister stressed that the UAE’s policy on food systems was strengthened ahead of COP28 with the inclusion of sustainable agriculture in the UAE’s Net Zero 2050 Strategic Initiative launched in 2021.

Since then, national capacities have been established in vertical farming, hydroponic farms, and other areas.

Innovative Approaches

Regarding the expected results during COP28 to promote sustainable food systems, Almheiri pointed out that the UAE as a climate-vulnerable nation with an arid landscape and limited freshwater resources, has a strong awareness of this aspect.

The country is working on reducing imports and increasing reliance on locally produced food. She indicated that the UAE has the largest research and development facility in the world dedicated to vertical agriculture, and thanks to innovation in crop science, we have been able to harvest rice grown in the desert as well.

Carbon Strategy

Almheiri said that the UAE government recently launched the “Net Zero 2050 Strategy,” which includes implementing more than 25 integrated programs in 6 targeted economic sectors, namely energy, industry, transportation, construction, waste, and agriculture, to bring about a transformation in these vital sectors and promote the green economy. This is intended to achieve significant economic gains, including the creation of more than 200,000 jobs and a 3% growth in gross domestic product.

Leading Approach

Almheiri stated that the Net Zero 2050 strategy intends to achieve net-zero emissions, by adopting a new approach in climate action, positioning the UAE as a renewable energy pioneer for nearly two decades, and working with various organizations, and government and private sector players globally in the climate neutrality field.

This involves efforts in the modern agriculture sector, such as the “Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate” (AIM4C), which is a joint initiative between the United States and the UAE, currently has more than 500 partners around the world, including governments and non-governmental organisations committed to invest about $13 billion in climate-smart agriculture and modern food systems worldwide.

Innovative Solutions

Considering the main climate challenges facing the UAE, especially those which the Minister of Climate Change and Environment expects in transforming food systems, she revealed that the challenges lie in changing existing systems and finding innovative solutions.

These solutions require focused research, development, innovation and technology. Such areas will all be part of the central themes at COP28 as Systemic change requires an all-inclusive approach.

The Minster said that is why we are involving governments, policymakers, producers, farmers, and end users. It must be a truly collaborative approach for it to work.

Almheiri emphasised the need for informal actors, from agricultural communities to research and development institutions, to play a vital role in developing an ambitious plan to transform global food systems and ensure their long-term sustainability. She added that financing constitutes a huge challenge and is a crucial factor in enabling climate action.

The minster said, “The COP28 Presidency aims to ensure that the longstanding commitment previously made to provide $100bn a year to poorer nations, which was supposed to be met in 2020 but has not yet been achieved, is finally delivered. If we are to be successful, we must work together, share knowledge and ideas to find a united solution, ensuring no one is left behind.”

Technology and innovation

The Minister of Climate Change and Environment and COP28 Food Systems Lead said that technology and innovation are extremely important in helping advance transforming our food systems. Technology helps us achieve things in new ways, it often leads to better, more cost-effective outcomes. For example, to name a few, there are agricultural innovation and research centres in the UAE that deliver scientific knowledge to address global challenges in food security, through innovations in genomics, genetic engineering and biotechnology.

The Minister added “Technology can help us track water usage, energy surges, and supply and demand of food. The integration of digital technologies, such as blockchain, IoT (Internet of Things), and AI (Artificial Intelligence), can improve supply chain transparency, traceability and efficiency. This can reduce food waste, improve food safety and ensure fair and equitable distribution of resources”.

She said, “The coexistence of both localised and globalised approaches could contribute to a more robust, adaptable global food system. Of course, part of the UAE food strategy is to ensure food security. Advances in agricultural technology. These technologies also enable food cultivation in urban environments and areas with limited arable land, promoting local resilience.”

Long-term sustainability

On the approaches work to increase the resilience of farming producers and communities, the Almheiri explained that “they involve increasing resilience of vulnerable farmers and communities to climate-related effects and implementing a combination of strategies that address both immediate challenges and long-term sustainability.

They also include providing farmers with the knowledge and skills to understand and adapt to climate change. Training programs on sustainable farming practices, weather forecasting, and risk management empower communities to make informed decisions.”

The Minister indicated that COP28 has a focus on ensuring inclusivity, and that means we are talking and listening to a wide range of voices including developing countries. She explained that the UAE-Pacific Partnership Fund has helped the Pacific Islands adopt renewable energy projects, addressing rising fuel costs, import dependency, and securing basic electricity needs – essential for sustainable development.

Sustainability guidelines

She said “From what we eat, to how it is grown, processed, packaged and delivered, every aspect of that chain affects emissions.” She added, “we cannot ignore this link – and that’s why we have put food systems transformation high up the agenda, and we have to walk the talk – there’s little point in talking about food systems transformation unless we show how we achieve that while adhering to sustainability guidelines.”

She indicated that during COP28, we will need to serve 250,000 meals to over 60,000 visitors across more than 50 outlets. We intend to deliver sustainable food. This new policy – for the first time at a COP event – is aimed at raising the awareness of attendees – so that even while eating, they are being mindful of the need to be climate-conscious.

Saving the planet Earth

Dr. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Ali, CEO of Trends Research and Advisory, said that the panel discussion is held by Trends as part of its road map towards the COP28 conference.

He said Almheiri is considered one of the prominent figures who, with their activity and tireless efforts, charted the world’s road map towards the most significant conference ever in the history of the Conferences of the Parties series, the COP28.

The UAE will host this edition at Expo Dubai in a few days. The whole world is counting on this gathering to deliver tangible results that contribute to saving the planet Earth from the threat of climate change in all its dimensions and complexities.

Sustainable Food System

Dr. Al-Ali explained that as the COP28 conference approaches, international discussions on the issues on its agenda are increasing, and there are many of those issues. He said that the sustainable food systems issue is included as a major item on the COP 28 agenda. Trends Research and Advisory has chosen this vital issue for this panel discussion, given the international attention it has received, and the fact that it is one of the basic approaches to confronting the repercussions of climate change.

He added that these systems play an indispensable role in confronting the repercussions of climate change, through their ability to achieve sustainable food and environmental security, based on green food systems that significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Neutral Climate Approach

The CEO of Trends and Research praised the vital role played by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, under the leadership of Almheiri, in achieving the vision of the wise UAE leadership in adopting a net-zero climate approach, protecting and developing ecosystems, and enhancing food and water security to ensure sustainable development.

Dr. Al-Ali stated that this discussion panel comes within the framework of the Trends’ ongoing research efforts to enhance environmental and climate awareness in society. It also falls in line with the framework of the existing cooperation between Trends Research and Advisory and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. He pledged to advance and consolidate this cooperation in the future, to achieve the goals of both parties in a world where Sustainability prevails.

Signing the Mangroves Book

Mariam Almheiri signed the Mangroves series book, a climate education document series for school children, recently launched by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, in cooperation with Trends Research and Advisory. The book is part of the initiatives of the Year of Sustainability and was launched in preparation for the Conference of the Parties (COP28).

The story series aims to raise awareness and educate community members, including children, about the importance of mangrove trees, and the necessity of preserving and developing them. The trees are an essential element of the UAE legacy of creating a sustainable environmental future and achieving biodiversity within the UAE and beyond.

Almheiri then toured the Sharjah International Book Fair. She visited most of the prominent local, regional and international publishing houses participating in the 42nd edition of the exhibition. She stopped at the “Trends” booth, where she was briefed about the latest scientific and cognitive publications. TRENDS officials briefed the Minister of Climate Change and Environment on the “Trends” roadmap towards COP28, and the Center’s ongoing research efforts to enhance the environmental and climate awareness of the community.