A milestone for food and health: Nordic Cooperation took lead at COP28

15.12.23 | News
Food takeover
Andreas Omvik
The UN climate summit COP28 was a milestone for food and health: for the first time ever food system transformations’ role for climate action was acknowledged. The Nordics took lead by hosting a series of critical high-level discussions and most important brought the latest research on nutrition and climate to the table.

During the climate summit in Dubai, the food systems takeover of the Nordic pavilion – and the official COP28 side-event on health, food and climate action - brought together some of the most influential voices on the urgent need for healthy and sustainable food systems.
“The food systems are not broken. It is responding exactly to the incentives it is given. And it is all the wrong incentives. Food is not priced properly, not for the environment, not for health and not for equity,” Lawrence Haddad Executive Director, Gain, said at the debate at the Nordic pavilion.

Urgent need to transform our food systems

The need to transform our food systems are clear. They need to become more sustainable, more competitive, and more equitable. Karen Ellemann, Secretary General, Nordic Council of Ministers stressed the importance of bridging between the climate, health and food communities in order to make it happen.

“We can never phase out food like we will with fossil fuels. Food is essential to life itself,” Karen said when describing the need for transforming our food systems to become more sustainable.

At the Food Systems Takeover of the Nordic Pavilion on 10 December, Stefanos Fotiou, Director, UN Food Systems Coordination Hub, reflected on the importance of the day and the increased focus that food systems received at this COP and where the Nordics took lead to be part of the change.

“This is the second most important day I’ve ever experienced at a COP. The first was in Paris, in COP21, the day that the Paris Agreement was approved. I think that this momentum that is kept here, it needs to continue for the next 2 to 3 years.”

Nordic countries are trail blazers

The Nordic collaboration have in different ways put food systems on the climate agenda since 2017 and with the newly launched Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2023 (NNR2023) – a powerful link has been made between healthy people and a healthy planet. 

“If food systems deliver healthy deliver healthy diets for all, we could save 8 million lives per year,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization WHO, at the official COP28 side-event on health, food and climate action, he continued: 

“Nordic Countries have been trail blazers for many policy breakthroughs, including for linking climate and nutrition”.

The NNR2023 is open source publication and provides a framework that can be adapted to different contexts. The Nordic cooperation hope it can be of use for regions, countries, and organisations across the world.

From discussions to action

Food systems and health was seen and heard in levels never experienced before at a COP. The climate summit in Dubai hosted both the first formal health day, and food day. 143 countries adopted the COP28 UAE Declaration on climate and health, and 134 Countries adopted the COP28 UAE Declaration on Food and Agriculture. In addition, food systems were also for the first time mentioned in the final agreement. However, there is still a lot that needs to be done and the progress continues towards and at COP29 to follow-up the political commitments. 

“We can’t talk about healthy and sustainable diets for all unless governments starts to subsidize what we actually want people to eat. And reflect their own recommendations through public procurement, fiscal policies and really start aligning the whole political toolbox”, said Gunhild Stordalen, Founder and Executive Chair of EAT, at the high-level debate Food Systems & Healthy Diets for Climate Action at the Nordic pavilion.