COP27 — the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — addressed many dimensions of the climate crisis, including food security and solutions. If a just transition within the food system is to take place, we need a cultural shift in how we value food.
The Food Tank is a non-profit that is focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters. Its dispatches were a good lens into food-related discussions at COP27, as they were rich with information, observations, and reflections. Here is a synthesis of their daily reports from the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh for COP27, the largest annual gathering on climate action.
Food as Integral to Climate Crisis Mitigation
According to the UN State of Food Security and Nutrition Report, as many as 828 million people around the world experienced hunger in 2021, an increase in 150 million from 2019. And 2.3 billion people – 29.3% of the global population – were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021. For the first time, this year’s COP27 featured multiple food and agriculture pavilions, each of which was dedicated to raising awareness of the intersection of food and the climate crisis.
Massive systemic changes are critical: A truly equitable food system recognizes the struggles of farmers to make ends meet and consumers to pay for food. It establishes systems that ensure global food security. Inadequate funding inhibits food and agriculture solutions. “Climate finance currently is not aligned at all with our climate objectives,” says Patty Fong, program director for Climate and Health & Well-Being at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food. She explains that more than $600 billion per year goes toward agriculture production, and roughly $500 billion lacks “guardrails around climate, environment, or health.”
Policies and politics: Food advocates called on decision makers at COP27 to incorporate sustainable consumption into national policies. Global food systems leaders believe that, without pushing for sustainable consumption patterns among eaters, the world will still drive land use change, GHG emissions, and biodiversity loss. Recognizing the value farmers bring, respecting them, and paying them for their work is an important part of a systems-scale food consumption transition.
Gender equality and women empowerment: Women make up more than half of the world’s population and nearly half of its farmers, yet their contributions to the food system remain largely ignored. Women typically receive a fraction of land, capital, training, and other resources compared to men. Listening to women in the food system and giving them the money and resources for the work they’re already doing is a beginning step toward more sustainable agriculture.
Methane reductions: More than 150 countries have now signed up to a global pact to reduce methane emissions—50 more than when the US and EU launched the Global Methane Pledge during the Glasgow climate talks last year. The US and EU will also launch other initiatives, including an effort to help smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Colombia, Pakistan, and Vietnam reduce methane in their dairy systems, as well as research on enteric fermentation.
Anti-hunger campaigns: Hunger is both an acute and a chronic crisis. Two anti-hunger campaigns were showcased at COP27: Beans is How (BiH) and Hungry for Action (H4A). Both campaigns are working to raise awareness about the global hunger and climate crises while promoting solutions that can help address these pressing challenges. One pathway is to foreground beans and legumes as the global population continues to grow and demand for protein increases. Beans can provide a sustainable and nutritious alternative to animal-based proteins, as they contain key proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Food waste: At least 40% of all food that’s produced is wasted, and food production accounts for about 10% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That’s 4 times more than the global airline industry. Yet this problem can be addressed in a more accelerated manner than a lot of other climate solutions. Informational empowerment is a key tool to reducing and recycling limits the waste we are generating. “Education, personal experience with food is very, very important,” reflects Raphaël Podselver, director of UN Affairs, ProVeg International.
Importance of investment and support at the local level: If a wide range of climate goals are to be reached, including protecting biodiversity, we should be looking to Indigenous peoples. They comprise less than 5% of the world’s population yet protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity. These communities need resources, capital, and support in their role as stewards of the land and Earth.
Communicating with consumers: Clear communication is key to inspiring eaters to participate in climate action. Advocates and food experts can take big ideas and message in simple ways so the average consumer understands. The ways we convey information about food security can alleviate uncertainty and create trust, fostering results associated with stronger economic growth, increased climate innovation, greater stability, and better health outcomes.
Calling all altruists: Numerous groups around the globe are fighting against the great injustices within the climate crisis and making transparent how poor nations, least to blame for global heating, are suffering its worst effects. When philanthropists join in to fight global food insecurity, pathways can lead to positive results. “Philanthropy needs to put its neck out, recruit other funders, create unexpected alliances, and really be leaders that can bear some of the risk to smooth the pathway forward for others to step in,” says Sara Farley, vice president of the Global Food Initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation.
Final Thoughts about Food Systems’ Discussions at COP27
It’s clear that there is no one solution for food systems transformation or climate crisis is within reach. Instead, layers of food systems solutions were shared at COP27. They included:
- transitioning to more agroecological, sustainable farming practices
- increasing farmers’ market power
- getting policymakers more involved in the food system transition
- integrating food more consistently into talks about surviving the climate emergency
- creating unlikely partnerships, such as those between the public and private sectors, to amplify impact
- and innovating in food science in areas such as cultivated meat
In June, 2022 more than 40 investor groups released a letter calling on the FAO to develop a road map to support the transition to more sustainable global food systems by 2050. The Coalition of investors, led by the FAIRR Initiative, represents a combined $18 trillion in assets. Unlike the energy sector, which has clear plans to attract investors to drive change, food and agriculture systems lack comparable plans.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) responded at COP27 that they will launch a plan in the next year to reduce the impact of food and agriculture systems on the environment. Agricultural emissions are responsible for one third of GHG emissions, so the news about a road map that provides clear guidance on methane emission limits, halting deforestation, scaling up alternative protein production, and support to ensure a just transition for farmers is welcome news, indeed.
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