7 June 2023
Igniting Change: Why Food Systems are Critical for Climate Negotiations
Photo Credit: Bonnie Kittle /Unsplash
story highlights

Global food systems account for 31% of global emissions, and on our current trajectory, greenhouse gases from food systems alone will cause us to exceed 1.5°C of warming between 2051 and 2063.

There is no chance of a climate-safe future if we do not take bold action on food.

By Dr Lucy Wallace, Food Systems Partnership

Food is the foundation of everything. It feeds us, gives us the energy and nutrition we need to survive and thrive, supports billions of livelihoods around the globe, and provides the deep cultural connections that make us human. The food we produce, process, trade, and consume has an impact on us, but it can also have profound impacts on the environment and on society. The role of food is so central that it should come as no surprise that action on food systems is vital for critical progress on all 17 SDGs, from SDG 2 (zero hunger) to SDG 13 (climate action).

This is why I am here at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in Germany representing the Food Systems Partnership, a coalition of organizations from across the whole food system, which evolved from the first ever Food Systems Pavilion hosted at UNFCCC COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

As it stands, global food systems account for 31% of global emissions, and on our current trajectory, greenhouse gases (GHGs) from food systems alone will cause us to exceed 1.5°C of warming between 2051 and 2063. It is clear that there is no chance of a climate-safe future if we do not take bold action on food.  

Food systems are central in tackling climate change, but up to now, food and agriculture have not played a key role in climate negotiations. Food systems have the potential to provide solutions and enhance adaptation to climate change, however this potential was largely absent from the majority of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted at COP 26 in Glasgow, UK.

We saw critical progress on food at COP 27. Three pavilions dedicated to food, the first agriculture day hosted by the Egyptian COP Presidency, and food making its way into the final cover decision text all indicate a shift in the perception of the relationship between food systems and climate negotiations. Though tentative, there appears to be growing recognition of food systems in achieving climate solutions in NDCs, however there is still a lot of work to do as the majority of countries are not yet realizing the full potential of food systems to deliver transformative climate action.

To build on this momentum and ensure that food systems are prioritized at the Bonn Climate Change Conference, COP 28, and beyond, the Food Systems Partnership is launching a new report titled, ‘Pathways for Food Systems Transformation.’

Combining the insights from extensive research from leading global organizations including the Food and Land Use Coalition, WWF, and the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, the report sets out six tangible pathways to help policymakers to integrate action on food systems into their climate strategies, while also providing co-benefits across the SDGs such as health (SDG 3), the economy (SDG 8), and biodiversity (SDG 15). This interconnectedness is why we advocate for a holistic ‘food systems approach,’ critical to achieving climate change targets and a sustainable future for people and planet.

While countless studies call for a holistic food systems approach to achieve climate, health, and economic goals, there is a need to build consensus on what this looks like in reality, on the ground. Our report advocates for building a common language around the term ‘food systems’ that all stakeholders are able to use.

Each of the six pathways detailed in the report is backed by examples from countries that are already successfully integrating them into their NDCs. The pathways described in the report recommend:

  • Enhancing collaboration and inclusion across all levels to design and implement effective climate change action that protects the most vulnerable to climate breakdown, as well as strengthening equity;
  • Prioritizing a transition to healthy, nutritious, and sustainable diets for all, with diverse diets and food production within planetary boundaries being key to a successful climate strategy and offering multiple health benefits;
  • Embracing agricultural reform and nature-positive production as agroecology and regenerative agriculture have the potential to reduce the emissions of food production and enhance biodiversity;
  • Increasing action on food loss and waste, estimated to be responsible for 6% of global emissions, which would not only mitigate climate change but has the potential to reduce pressure on land and improve nutrition security;
  • Transforming financial mechanisms to support sustainable, equitable food systems, taking advantage of the significant opportunities around how we redirect public subsidies from destructive food and farming practices; and
  • Most importantly, that national governments and the private sector champion consistent accurate monitoring to track progress on implementation, embedding all the above pathways.

Enacting a food systems approach within climate strategies will no doubt take serious political will and investment. But its transformative potential for SDG 13 and climate action cannot be understated. It is time for food systems to be at the forefront of climate action.

* * *

Dr Lucy Wallace is Chief of Staff at EIT Food, which is serving as the Secretariat for the Food Systems Partnership. The newly formed Food Systems Partnership includes EIT Food, the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), Clim-EatEnvironmental Defense Fund (EDF), Carrier, and Coalition of Action for Soil Health (CA4SH).

related events