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With the curtains drawn on the conference, our COP expert, Jason Murphy, unravels the accomplishments and explores their implications for the future of sustainability.

Even before the start of COP28, it was clear that the pivotal role of food systems in the climate crisis would get more attention than at any Conferences of Parties before it. This was consolidated when over 130 world leaders signed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. This groundbreaking pledge amplifies the call for urgent and collective efforts to curtail the environmental footprint of our food systems while enhancing their resilience to climate challenges.

Now, with the curtains drawn on the conference, I wanted to unravel some of the accomplishments of the conference and explore their implications for the future of sustainability. In the aftermath of COP28, it’s imperative to assess the strides made and understand the impact set to shape the trajectory of global sustainability. In the wake of this monumental gathering, we must seriously consider the practical steps that are essential in steering our planet towards the ambitious goal of a net-zero world by 2050.

Pinnacle Moments: Key Highlights and Insights from COP28:

Farewell Fossil Fuels: The biggest headline from COP28 was the historic deal made between governments who agreed, for the first time ever, to ‘transition away’ from fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change. This is a significant shift for climate action, as it marks the first time that language about fossil fuels has been used in a final agreement in almost 30 years of COP climate summits despite coil, oil, and gas use being cited as the main cause of climate change. Following the agreement at COP28, there is renewed hope that parties will agree to end the use of these fuels in some shape or form this century.

The food and climate agenda aligned: At COP28, there was a broad acknowledgment that the food agenda is aligned with the climate fight across the board. As well as the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action being signed, The United Nations (UN) laid out a pathway towards aligning the global food system with global climate goals. The UN’s first instalment of its roadmap for providing food and farming while staying within 1.5C. emphasised the need to cut food waste in half by 2030. This guidance aligns with many pre-existing, established goals, for example Tesco’s is making good progress toward its ambition of halving food waste by 2025.

Food storage and transportation: During this year’s conference, a group of leading industry names, including the UK’s Cold Chain Federation, petitioned for food to be stored and transported at –15°C (rather than the current –18°C). This strategic proposal aims to reduce energy consumption and propel the sector towards a net-zero model. At IMS Evolve, we applaud the recognition that an evaluation of the cold chains cooling model is needed. Traditional conservative cooling models are often predicated on overcooling all refrigeration units, and therefore all produce, to the lowest temperature determined by the most volatile food group. However, by applying smart cooling methods and advanced technology, assets and produce can be monitored and cooled on an individual basis, enabling a huge reduction of over cooling across the cold chain and therefore a reduction of energy consumption, whilst also driving more enhanced food safety and quality for consumers. The recognition at COP that this should be a focus is a positive step forward for the industry.

Considerations in Making a ‘Can Do’ COP:

So… how do we take these commitments, suggestions, reports, and declarations and turn them into concrete actions to ensure a can-do COP outcome where tangible results are seen quickly?

Let’s start with fossil fuel reduction, the agreement made at COP28 is a positive starting point for the clean energy transition. But, to effectively integrate initiatives that can truly achieve this goal, a consultative approach must be taken that engages the experience and expertise of those immersed in the day-to-day operations across different industries. Let’s take the food retail sector as an example where they are already adopting digital technologies, bolstering sustainability, and spearheading efforts to decarbonise. Their first-hand experiences and measured insights would be invaluable in the implementation of initiatives that seamlessly integrate with the intricate workings of the sector. By consulting industry experts, the gap between policy ideals and practical implementation can be bridged, and we can safeguard against the inadvertent imposition that new guidelines or policies could cause that may prove economically challenging within the already tight-margined landscape.

In terms of combating food waste and inefficiencies across the supply chain, supply chain organisations should be encouraged and directed to look at available cutting-edge technologies and data-driven analytics. Leveraging IoT, artificial intelligence, and blockchain can provide real-time visibility into the entire journey of food products, from production to consumption. This comprehensive monitoring and advanced management of assets within supply chains will allow for deviations from optimal conditions to be flagged and automatically corrected, productivity to be increased and product safety to be protected. By integrating these technologies, stakeholders can streamline operations, leverage enhance cooling methodology, and facilitate optimised and reduced energy consumption to ultimately foster a more sustainable and resource-efficient food supply chain.

Essentially, bringing the supply chain into the digital world empowers unparalleled levels of control and visibility, unattainable without the deployment of cutting-edge technology.

Practical and Lasting Impacts:

Leading climate conferences, such as COP28, play a vital role in shaping the broader climate agenda, and have this year placed specific emphasis on the food sector. However, for the goals established at this year’s event to have tangible influence on policy frameworks and business operations, the implementation of new initiatives needs to be managed strategically. This means looking to experts across various industries for guidance and timelines to ensure a collaborative approach, while supporting the funding and implementation of innovative technology solutions. If approached empathetically and practically, the foundations to achieving the goals of COP28 can be laid for both the food industry and on a global scale.