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Our food system accounts for 1/3 of all global emissions - so why has it hardly been talked about at previous COPs? Will this ever change?

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Our food system accounts for around a third of all global emissions - so why has it hardly been talked about at previous COPs? The UN’s climate change conference brings together world leaders every year to try to bash out a deal to cut emissions and halt climate change. But it’s so far been famously silent on food and farming. This seems absurd, even to a casual observer, and even more so when one considers the potential of food system landscapes to sequester carbon and lock it away. What on earth is going on then, and will this ever change? COP veteran, Prof Tim Benton (University of Leeds, Chatham House, former UK Food Security Champion, and co-lead of AFN Network+), lead us through this conundrum. Tim has been to many COPs, worked with many governments on food system transformation, is regularly consulted by the UK’s Climate Change Committee, as well as being an author for the IPCC's Special Report on Land, Food and Climate. Tim will lift the lid on what really happens at COP, where food and farming sit in it all, how this might change in the future, and his hopes for this year’s COP28 in Dubai.

Interviewing him will be Prof Neil Ward from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, and AFN Network+ co-lead (alongside Tim). Neil is also author of Net Zero, Food and Farming: Climate Change and the UK Agri-Food System (Routledge 2023).

Tim will cover:

  • Why have food systems largely been invisible at COPs?
  • What it has been like to try to introduce food/farming discussions at COP? What normally happens in the run up regarding this? Has this changed over time?
  • What sorts of food/farming organisations and companies are normally at COP? Who is missing from the table?
  • What is happening with food at COP28, and where is the pathway towards COP29/30?
  • Will it be enough to engender real change at pace and scale?
  • What more is needed?

About Tim: Professor Tim G. Benton leads the Environment and Society Programme at Chatham House. He joined Chatham House in 2016 as a distinguished visiting fellow, at which time he was also dean of strategic research initiatives at the University of Leeds. From 2011-2016 he was the ‘champion’ of the UK’s Global Food Security programme which was a multi-agency partnership of the UK’s public bodies (government departments, devolved governments and research councils) with an interest in the challenges around food.

As a leading advocate on food systems transformation, he has worked with UK governments, the EU, G20 and a range of other governments around the world, as well as leading businesses and civil society organisations. He has been a global agenda steward of the World Economic Forum, and was an author of the IPCC’s Special Report on Food, Land and Climate (2019), and the UK’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (2017, 2022).

He has published more than 200 academic papers, many tackling how systems respond to environmental change. His work on sustainability leadership has been recognised with an honorary fellowship of the UK’s Society for the Environment, and a doctorate honoris causa from the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium. He also remains a (part time) Research Professor at the University of Leeds.

About Neil:

As well as a co-convenor of AFN Network+, Neil Ward is a professor of rural and regional development at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA), where he was deputy vice chancellor and PVC-Academic (2013-21). He has held chairs at the University of Leeds and Newcastle University, where he was director of the Centre for Rural Economy from 2004 to 2008. He has also worked for periods on secondment to the Cabinet Office and as an advisor to the Economic and Social Research Council. His research interests are in rural economic and social change, agriculture, food and environmental policy and regional development. His latest book is Net Zero, Food and Farming: Climate Change and the UK Agri-Food System (Routledge 2023).

About the webinar series:

This webinar is part of a series run by AFN Network+, exploring net zero in the UK agri-food system with leading movers and shakers. Expect deep and varied insight from across the sector, including farmers, scientists, policy analysts, community leaders, retailers, politicians, businesses and health professionals. AFN Network+ is a 3-year UKRI-funded project coordinated by the Universities of East Anglia, West of England, York, and Leeds. The network has 1000+ academics, researchers, third sector organisations, policy makers, and agri-food industry professionals from farmers to retailers. Together we are working to identify key research needs to help the UK food system transition towards a net zero UK by 2050.

Watch past webinars here.

Follow AFN Network+ on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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