Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the UN Climate Conference, COP 28, Leaders Event: Transforming Food Systems in the Face of Climate Change

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December 1, 2023

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, David.  Thank you very, very much, Madam Minister.  Thank you for your leadership.  Thank you for hosting us here today.

The Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action represents a landmark commitment by now over 130 countries to better align efforts on agriculture and food systems with climate action. And today I am very pleased to announce that the United States is joining the Declaration and will serve as a founding member of the Technical Cooperation Collaborative to help implement its vision.

Around the world, 700 million people are chronically undernourished.  About half of these people face acute food insecurity: meaning quite simply they don’t know where their next meal is coming from – or whether it will come at all.

This crisis is made worse by our warming climate and by extreme weather events.  Just in this past year, we’ve experienced staggering heat waves in North America, in Europe, in Asia; raging wildfires across Southern Europe and North Africa; catastrophic floods in South Asia.

Behind the statistics on food insecurity, real people.  The toddler whose physical and mental development is stunted by chronic malnutrition, denied her right to learn and grow.  The mother unable to provide her baby essential nutrients.  The parents unable to put food on the table.  As President Biden has said, if parents can’t feed their children, nothing else matters.

And here is the problem:  This challenge is only going to get worse.  A growing population means the global demand for food is likely to increase by an estimated 50 percent by the year 2050.  An escalating climate crisis means that crop yields could drop by as much as 30 percent over that same period.  So do the math:  We’ll be feeding more and more people on a planet where growing food will become harder and harder.

Since January 2021, the United States has provided $17.5 billion to tackle global hunger.  We provide more than 50 percent of the World Food Program’s budget.  We’re devoting a billion dollars annually through Feed the Future, our government’s global food security initiative, to strengthen food systems, social safety nets, nutrition in more than 40 countries.

We’re also working with partners to rethink what, where, and how we produce food, in the context of a changing planet.  Our goal is for farmers, for ranchers, to be able to sustainably achieve bigger yields of more nutritious crops, at lower costs, using less land, producing lower emissions.  That’s the vision.

And it’s also the mission of the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils – or “VACS” – which we launched with the African Union and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization just a few months ago in February.

VACS is focused on the two fundamental elements of food production, and it really does come down to this: soil and seeds.  Like Bill Gates, in this job I’ve had to learn more about food than I ever thought I would, and I’ve been gratified to work with some of the leading experts in the world, including Dr. Cary Fowler, who’s taught me a lot about it.  And the basics are really what counts: soil and seeds.

The program, which is part of the broader Feed the Future initiative, works in two primary ways.  First, investing below ground – mapping, conserving, building healthy soils that produce healthy food.  And second, by investing above ground. VACS helps identify under-invested but nutrient-rich and climate-resilient crops, breeding better varieties of them, and then harvesting them and delivering them to the world.  To pick up on what Prime Minister Meloni said, this is food not just to survive but to thrive, and it will give countries sustainable productive capacity.

Already, we’ve built a coalition and started a movement.  The Netherlands, Japan, the United Kingdom, Norway, and others, leading corporations like Cargill and ADM have all signed up – and we encourage everyone here to join us.  We’re also celebrating our inaugural VACS Champions: Bayer, Catholic Relief Services, ADM, Concern Worldwide, and the One Acre Fund.  And today, the United States is pledging an additional $50 million, on top of the $100 million that we announced in July.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

At the same time, we’re scaling climate-smart agriculture through the President’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.  We’re also advancing food systems innovation through the expansion of initiatives like the Agriculture Innovation Missions for Climate with the UAE, which is marshalling billions in private and public investments.

Even as the global community confronts other challenges demanding our attention, we have to maintain our focus on ending climate-driven hunger.  This meeting – this meeting will raise our ambitions to do exactly that.  We look forward to working with each and every one of you.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

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