Our Global Food System inspired a report from the UN Environmental Program. Find out why our food issues are as important as green energy to our future.
My readers have been educating me on an essential global issue. As Dare to Know took off, and we began to look into readers’ interests (we have our ways), we found that many readers had an interest in the topic of food.
I had been blind to the idea of food as a part of the new story that Dare to Know tries to tell. I knew that the environment was essential to our message, including climate change and mass extinction. Still, the widespread reader interest in food puzzled me.
As we’ve progressed, food has ended up as one of Dare to Know’s prime topics. Subscribers have explained how food ethics are central to their view of our place in nature and the universe.
Global Food System A Culprit in Climate Change
They’ve also shown us that the global food system is one of the chief culprits in both the climate change and mass extinction crises. In fact, we really can’t address either problem without first addressing how we eat.
A new report by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), The World Wildlife Federation (WWF), EAT, and Climate Focus confirms what our readers have been telling us. Countries worldwide are missing out on opportunities to cut greenhouse gas emissions by fixing our global food system.
What’s more, the pandemic doesn’t provide a convenient excuse to put these issues on the back burner. In fact, building back better from our lock-down conditions provides the perfect opportunity to reconfigure the global food system and make it more eco-friendly.
“Chance to Rethink How We Produce and Consume Food”
“This crisis offers us a chance to radically rethink how we produce and consume food,” according to UN Environment Chief Inger Andersen. She went on to say, “It is up to us to seize this opportunity and put sustainable food systems at the heart of the green recovery.”
The report goes beyond finger-pointing and provides sixteen ways for all countries fix the global food system, “from farm to fork.” Looked at with this life cycle approach, the food system is responsible for up to 37% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
This means that humanity can’t keep our global temperature from rising more than 1.5˚C without addressing our diets and the volume of food we waste. Governments only pay lip service to these two issues. Yet, if they took them seriously, they could have the same impact as taking 2.7 billion cars off the road.
Same Impact as Taking 2.7 Billion Cars Off the Road
Marco Lambertini is the Executive Director of WWF International. He explained the problem like this. “Without action on how we produce and consume food, we cannot achieve our climate or biodiversity goals, which are the foundation to achieve food security, prevent the emergence of diseases and ultimately deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“Fixing food is not only a prerequisite to achieve the 2030 Agenda, but is as important as the energy transformation to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, the founder of EAT. Her statement is a revelation.
For all of the debate surrounding fossil fuels and wind farms, when have readers heard anyone equate the global food system with green energy as a climate solution? Yet, this is where humanity finds itself.
“Fixing Food Is as Important as the Energy Transformation”
Not all of the report’s sixteen recommendations apply to all countries. It’s more productive to touch on the broader topics and link the full document down below.
The first set of recommendations deal with production. The most crucial guidance in this category is to prevent any further conversion of natural habitat into agricultural land.
Production improvements also include moving to more sustainable agriculture and promoting biodiversity. In particular, countries need to combat the rapid loss of pollinators we’re seeing worldwide.
Chain of Processing, Storage and Transportation Facilities
The next group of recommendations deal with what farmers like my dad used to call “the middle-men.” This is the chain of processing, storage and transportation facilities between the producer and the consumer.
Recommendations in this area include targeting food loss and waste reduction. Governments can encourage industries to improve storage facilities, shorten supply chains and invest in more refrigeration and cold supply chains, especially in hot climates.
The third group of recommendations hit closer to home in a very personal way. They deal with food consumption and individual diets.
Plant-Based Diets and Shifting Away from Food Waste
The key points here are encouraging more plant-based diets and shifting away from food waste in the home. Much of this entails education, information campaigns and supporting more local food environments like farmers’ markets.
The new report is called Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for Food Systems. Every country that signed onto the Paris Agreement must submit five-year plans called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
The next round of NDCs is due this year. As the report clarifies, the problem with this process is that nobody is paying any genuine attention to the global food system. It’s not part of their planned contributions to reducing carbon emissions.
Not One Country Has Looked at Diets or Food Waste
Although a handful of countries have talked about reducing food loss in their plans, not one country has explicitly looked at food waste. Similarly, so far at least, no government has spoken about encouraging sustainable diets as part of its plan to reach its NDC.
According to the report, “Early indications are that sustainable food consumption and food loss and waste will continue to be ignored in the review process.”
This is not the way we want the next five years to go. Our governments need to take a long, hard look at the global food system and make the changes required.
Governments Need to Look at the Global Food System
It’s up to every one of us to contact our elected representatives and clarify that we expect them to include the global food system in our countries’ NDCs. This issue has two strikes against it. Farm issues aren’t sexy, and nobody likes to be told what to eat.
Despite this, as we gradually return to building back better, this is the best opportunity we will ever have to revamp our global food system. This new report lays out exactly what we need to do. Now, we all have to figure out how to put these recommendations into practice.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
From farm to fork: How food systems can power climate action
Improved climate action on food systems can deliver 20 percent of global emissions reductions needed by 2050
Enhancing NDCs for Food Systems: Recommendations for Decision Makers
Food Ethics: An Embarrassment of Choices
Food Waste Explodes: Food Banks Face Empty Shelves
Agricultural Diversity Under Threat Worldwide