Food prices are at record highs in many countries, driven by factors including climate change, violent conflict, the Covid-19 pandemic and supply chain disruptions. This perfect storm exposed the inefficiencies and flaws in global food systems, leading some to warn of a looming food crisis.
Last September, a United Nations summit brought together key players in food and agriculture and produced new national and international commitments to improve food systems for people and the planet. The summit’s five action tracks identified powerful solutions to eradicate hunger and malnutrition and to achieve environmental sustainability along food value chains. Governments and businesses had an ideal opportunity – shortly before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November – to act decisively to transform food systems.
This opportunity did not materialize. As time is running out in the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition from 2016 to 2025, we need to measure progress in months, not years – and COP26 has largely sidelined food systems. In the UN climate negotiations, coal, cars, trees, cement, steel and cash continue to capture political and media attention, while the urgent need to change the way whose food we produce and consume is generally ignored.
This is extremely myopic, given that food systems are responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even if all other sectors were to achieve net zero emissions tomorrow, it would be impossible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius without significant changes in food systems.
Today, food systems use 70% of freshwater resources, cover 40% of the planet’s ice-free land, and are a major driver of deforestation, the extinction of thousands of species, and the collapse ecosystems on which we depend.
At the same time, food systems are also failing in their primary purpose of feeding the growing world population. Rapidly rising hunger and malnutrition, exacerbated by Covid-19 disruptions and rising poverty rates, are wiping out a decade of progress. Three billion people cannot afford healthy, nutritious food, and millions are at risk of death, disease and debilitating physical and cognitive impairments. Many people fear that the war in Ukraine will worsen food insecurity in developing countries.
Yet there is hope. A food system based on sustainable production, respect for natural ecosystems, a circular economy and responsible management of land and resources throughout the value chain will greatly benefit human and planetary health, and boost jobs and jobs. livelihoods.
Moreover, the solutions identified during the UN Food Systems Summit process are ready to be implemented. Organizations focused on health, nutrition, poverty and development have begun to overcome barriers to collective action. By rekindling the momentum for food systems reform generated over the past year, we can ensure that the UN Decade of Action achieves its goal of “ending malnutrition in all its forms, everywhere, leaving no one behind”. . Stronger collective efforts can help achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement in the crops that remain by 2030.
This will not happen without political will; governments and businesses, as well as civil society partners, need to step up their efforts. The transformation we so desperately need will only be possible if we invest the time and resources to deliver on national and international commitments.
As a next step, action on food systems must become a pillar of global climate policy-making in all major fora. These include COP27 (which will take place in Egypt in November) and each subsequent COP; global action programs on methane and deforestation; Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Climate Agreement; Covid-19 recovery plans; green infrastructure programs; public health measures; and sustainable business initiatives.
High-level meetings throughout 2022 provide opportunities to consolidate and implement national plans and commitments. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, China, is expected to finalize an ambitious new global biodiversity framework, centered on food systems. The G7, under the German presidency, could mobilize new financial commitments to fight hunger and protect nature. Indonesia’s G20 Presidency provides an opportunity for member countries to step up their efforts to build resilience in the food system, fight hunger and reduce food loss and waste. During COP27, the Egyptian presidency can put food systems at the heart of the climate agenda with a proposal for an Agriculture, Nutrition and Food Systems Day – or a food fortnight.
Companies, on the other hand, must deliver on their commitments to reduce hunger and malnutrition, provide healthy food, embrace and achieve science-based targets, and fight deforestation. Multilateral development banks, international institutions, donors and philanthropists can increase funding of all kinds, explicitly targeting the need for healthy food produced by sustainable methods. The World Trade Organization should place this issue at the center of the global trade agenda.
We are already witnessing the consequences of the failure of the food system, as extreme weather events, economic insecurity, conflict and Covid-19 continue to take their toll. These problems will only get worse if we don’t act quickly.
But another more sustainable future is possible and the solutions are at hand. To achieve this, all that is needed is the political will to act now.
Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli is the co-founder of Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition and an ambassador for the Food and Land Use Coalition. Oliver Camp is a senior associate at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2022.