Agricultural farming

Food and agriculture should be at heart of tackling climate change

Greenhouse gas emissions from food systems alone are predicted to push global warming over 1.5°C
22 June 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

A plant-based food system would accelerate carbon drawdown, boost biodiversity and bolster food security

A global food coalition has used June's Bonn Climate Change Conference to launch a report stating that food and agriculture should be central to climate negotiations. 

Food systems account for 31% of global emissions. On the world’s current trajectory, greenhouse gas emissions from this alone will cause warming to exceed 1.5°C between 2051 and 2063. 

Food and agriculture are the largest sources of environmental degradation, yet are not traditionally included in climate negotiations, while food systems are central to tackling climate change but were not mentioned in the four Global Goals for 2050 launched at CBD COP15 in November 2022.

The Pathways for food systems transformation report from the Food Systems Partnership urges action. There is “no chance of a climate-safe future if we do not take urgent action on food,” believes Dr Lucy Wallace, Chief of Staff at EIT Food, which is serving as Secretariat for the newly formed Partnership.

“Not much progress has been made on actual steps towards implementation of climate action for the benefit of food systems,” said Wiebe Smit, Policy and Impact Innovator, at Clim-Eat, a think-and-do tank. “As a global community, we need to start walking the talk and show willingness and dedication to come to solutions quickly, even if this may mean that we have to compromise on our individual gains a little bit.”

“COP27 failed to fully recognise the role of food systems in strengthening climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience.”

The report highlights a positive trend towards recognising food systems as crucial to national climate solutions. However, most countries haven’t realised the full potential of including and implementing action on food systems in climate strategies. 

Dr Wallace said the conference is a “critical moment to elevate food systems within global climate negotiations. COP27 failed to fully recognise the role of food systems in strengthening climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience.” 

The report advocates for international efforts to increase ambition and urgency, and outlines six tangible pathways, backed by examples from countries successfully using them, to help policymakers to integrate action on food: 

  • Enhance collaboration and inclusion at all levels, across all parts of our food systems; 
  • Enable transition to healthy, nutritious, sustainable diets; 
  • Embrace agricultural reform and nature-positive production; 
  • Increase action against food loss and waste; 
  • Transform financial mechanisms to support sustainable, equitable food systems; 
  • Champion consistent, accurate monitoring and reporting to track global progress on implementation.

The Food Systems Partnership will unify stakeholders across food and climate movements and span public, private and not-for-profit sectors; attract a diverse community of supporters; and establish a new ‘Producers Hub’ led by food producers at COP28.

Tom Grasso, VP Climate Resilient Food Systems at US non-profit organisation, the Environmental Defense Fund said: “Our global food systems both contribute to climate change and offer some of the biggest opportunities to help solve the climate crisis while at the same time bolstering equity for smallholder food producers, ensuring inclusivity for Indigenous Peoples and enhancing community wellbeing.”

Nicola Harris, a spokesperson at the Plant Based Treaty, a companion to the UNFCCC/Paris Agreement, aimed at putting food systems at the heart of combating the climate crisis, added: “A plant-based food system would allow three-quarters of agricultural land globally to be rewilded. This would accelerate carbon drawdown and boost biodiversity, allowing the UK to produce far more of its food locally at home, bolstering food security as we tackle the triple threat of the climate, health and cost-of-living crisis.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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