24 September 2019: The UNFCCC Secretariat has published a technical paper on off-grid and decentralized energy solutions for smart energy and water use in the agrifood chain. The paper examines climate impacts on the agrifood sector, the water-energy-food nexus, and links with the SDGs, among other issues.

Focusing on opportunities for meeting energy and water demand in the agrifood sector and on the co-benefits of off-grid and decentralized energy systems, the paper (FCCC/TP/2019/2) acknowledges that while cost-effective energy-smart and climate-smart agrifood systems exist, they have not been widely promoted or deployed. The paper explains that a transition in the agrifood sector integrating water, energy and food policies would help increase uptake and provide food security while also reducing emissions, thereby supporting the SDGs and helping to realize countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The paper explores actions to replicate and scale up energy-smart solutions, such as improved energy efficiency, energy storage technologies and efficient water use, which can provide access to affordable and reliable energy and water by rural communities where food is produced and lead to more sustainable food production and processing methods with benefits to communities. Such opportunities are linked with activities related to the transition to circular economy interventions that could enhance mitigation ambition of pre-2020 action and beyond and are in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action) and 15 (life on land).

To ensure energy-smart food systems in the short to medium term, the paper recommends: increasing energy efficiency at all stages along the food supply chain so that energy intensity decreases; developing renewable energy systems as a substitute for fossil fuel-based heat, power and transport fuels, without reducing food productivity; and improving access to modern energy services with a focus on off-grid rural communities to improve food product quality and reduce food losses.

The paper notes that the agrifood sector directly impacts on: SDG 2; SDG 6, including efficient extraction and use of fresh water; SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), including energy-smart food; SDG 12; and SDG 13, including climate-smart food. Beyond these, the paper explains that all the SDGs are directly or indirectly linked with the global agrifood sector and connected on some level to producing sustainable and healthy food.

The paper argues that achieving the SDGs will not be possible without climate action, including by the agrifood sector. It concludes that:

  • energy- and water-wise solutions for decarbonizing primary production contribute mainly to SDGs 6, 7, 12, 14 (life below water) and 15;
  • decarbonizing the post-harvest and food processing phases of the agrifood chain using financially viable renewable energy, energy efficiency and water-saving measures can help achieve SDG 7, as well as SDGs 2, 6, 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 12 and 13;
  • encouraging the circular economy can help achieve SDGs 2, 6, 7, 12 and 13;
  • the water-energy-food nexus approach to improving energy access, water availability and quality, and sustainability of food production is in line with SDGs 1, 2, 6, 13 and 15; and
  • development by government of conducive policy frameworks and enabling environments to support the agrifood sector can lead to socioeconomic benefits and help realize SDGs 2, 5 (gender equality), 6, 7, 8 and 9.

The paper further highlights: links between clean water and healthy communities (SDGs 3 (good health and well-being) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities)); protecting soil, manufacturing mineral fertilizers without fossil fuel inputs, and recycling animal, crop and food nutrients (SDGs 2, 9 and 15); and education and responsible consumption to deal with post-harvest losses in developing economies, and retail and consumer waste, especially in industrialized countries (SDGs 4 (quality education) and 12); the need to transition away from producing and consuming animal protein to avoid hunger, improve health and animal welfare, and achieve climate goals (SDGs 3, 4, 10 (reduced inequalities), 12 and 13); and the continued expansion of peri-urban agriculture, which could eventually provide 20-30% of local food demand, with the rest coming from nearby farms and fisheries, thereby contributing to SDG 11.

The paper was prepared in response to a request from the Conference of the Parties (COP), and is based on a literature review and discussions during technical expert meetings (TEMs) held in 2019 under the technical examination process on mitigation (TEP-M). It will inform negotiations at the Santiago Climate Change Conference in December. [Publication: Off-Grid and Decentralized Energy Solutions for Smart Energy and Water Use in the Agrifood Chain]