Global food demand continues to grow, with the world's population expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050 while 820 million people were suffering from hunger as of 2021 according to UN estimates. At the same time, climate change is having a dramatic impact on agricultural land and livestock productivity.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates agricultural land productivity decreased by 21% compared with a scenario with no climate change while 20-60% livestock losses were recorded during serious droughts in recent decades. Furthermore, food systems are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, representing one-third of global emissions and underlining the need for the transition to a sustainable food system.

DG Okonjo-Iweala said trade is often taken for granted and viewed as part of the problem but it should be seen as part of the solution to climate change and food security. She noted trade provides food for one in every six people around the world and therefore has an important role in ensuring that food and other essential goods, such as fertilizer and climate adaptation goods, and services get to where they are needed.

The DG highlighted the WTO's “threefold responsibility to keep markets open, transparent and equitable”. She also drew attention to the food security package adopted by the WTO at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June, where members vowed to limit as much as possible restrictions or prohibitions on food and committed not to impose export prohibitions or restrictions on the humanitarian food purchases by the World Food Programme.

The DG urged governments to include trade elements in their national climate adaptation plans, the building blocks for implementing global climate goals at a national level. At the WTO, members are working on reforming agricultural subsidies, she said. This would help to redirect some of the USD 817 billion poured annually into these subsidies towards public goods and services that spur innovation, boost biosecurity and improve infrastructure, she added.

While noting the need to protect intellectual property rights, DG Okonjo-Iweala stressed the equally important issue of technology transfer to ensure developing countries benefit from green technologies at low costs. She pointed to the WTO's joint efforts with  the World Intellectual Property Organization to put in place some flexibilities in intellectual property (IP) rights, such as voluntary licences to produce COVID-19 vaccines. More broadly, the two organizations are working together to build the capacity of developing countries to make better use of IP, which could be very beneficial to food systems and food security, she added. 

The DG also highlighted the WTO's work in mobilizing financial resources to help small farmers in developing countries deal with losses associated with climate change, such as through the Aid for Trade initiative, which raised almost USD 14 million last year, some of which will be used to support food systems. She also underscored the important role of enhanced research and innovation in improving the quality of agricultural products and in helping small farmers transition to sustainable production.

In reference to the food security package adopted at MC12, DG Okonjo-Iweala said WTO members are taking steps to implement ministers' decisions and to discuss the way forward for agricultural negotiations so that “we can get an agreement on agricultural trade that is cognisant of climate-related and sustainability issues and their impact and which will actually support smallholder farmers to be more resilient, to be able to feed themselves and to be able to trade with the rest of the world”.

Over 50 other speakers, including heads of state, heads of international organizations and chiefs of financial institutions and private sector companies, took the floor and exchanged views on the interplay between climate change and food security.

World leaders aired their concerns over the multiple crises that are compounding the impact of climate change, underlining heightened geopolitical tensions and a potential economic recession. They shared insights on how to coordinate efforts to boost agricultural productivity, build resilience in the farm sector, reduce losses in food supply chains and deploy sound policies to strengthen the response to a potential food crisis.


The Food Security Roundtable is part of the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Implementation Summit. More information about the summit is available here.

More information on the WTO's participation in COP27 is available here.




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