New science report warns we must change food production to save our planet

(ORDO NEWS) — National climate plans often fail to prioritize food systems, and a new report from the Global Alliance for the Future of Food warns that this is a missed opportunity.

If the world can change the way food is produced, distributed, consumed and disposed of, it is estimated that we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10.3 billion metric tons per year. This alone will allow us to achieve 20 percent of the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement by 2050.

The new report takes a close look at the climate plans of China, the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Vanuatu.

Apart from France, Germany and the US, no other countries have committed to promoting sustainable diets, although studies show that this can significantly reduce emissions.

Moreover, no country has fully considered emissions from food imports and how they can contribute to deforestation and habitat destruction elsewhere in the world.

“Integrating food system transformation into Nationally Determined Contributions (LDCs) – the national climate actions at the heart of the Paris Agreement – is critical to achieving interlinked environmental, biodiversity, health, economic, social and cultural goals,” the report says, dedicated to the USA.

“A food systems approach increases resilience to climate change and leads to a variety of specific solutions for food production, distribution, consumption and waste. However, food systems are rarely given priority in climate policy.”

The land in the US is considered to be one of the most fertile in the world, and its food systems are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest US climate plans submitted to the UN take into account carbon dioxide emissions from the land sector, but there are no clear plans to change diets or reduce food waste.

The UK, unlike the US, has a large overseas land footprint. Its needs are putting pressure on natural ecosystems elsewhere, and according to the report, the UK’s national climate plans are not doing enough to mitigate this international impact.

The UK’s plans are also based on unclear recommendations and analysis from within the government. The data has not been made publicly available.

The European Union’s Green Deal has a farm-to-fork strategy to improve food production, transport and waste, but there is no direct mention of food, diet or food waste in the EU climate plans presented at the UN.

“This may be a reflection of the fact that legislation at the EU level is not intended to be very prescriptive in terms of actions and measures,” the report acknowledges, “rather, it enables Member States to develop policies in line with their national conditions in order to achieve objectives at EU level”.

China is the world’s largest food producer. The country’s food systems need to feed 1.4 billion people, and as local demand for meat continues to skyrocket, China is forced to import massive amounts of soybeans to feed its livestock. This, in turn, has led to an increase in deforestation abroad, especially in South America.

Domestic damage is also detrimental. In the future, some of China’s most fertile regions will be threatened by climate change. They can even dry out within 30 years. However, this report states that China’s climate plans make no explicit mention of assessments or food system concerns.

“According to one interviewee, this omission is mainly due to the fact that China’s [National Defined Contribution] is primarily aimed at achieving the 2030 climate goal, which prioritizes energy-related CO2 emissions,” the report explains.

The authors also note that the lack of data may be the reason for the omission. So far, there has not been extensive research into China’s food systems, they said. In fact, there are currently only a few studies on this topic.

Of all the countries compared in the report, Colombia, Senegal and Kenya, according to the authors, have the most ambitious plans. These countries place particular emphasis on promoting sustainable agricultural practices and improving local agriculture.

In Kenya, for example, national climate plans include measures to build resilience to climate change through sustainable land use management. Climate change funds have also created safety nets and extension services to ensure marginalized communities have what they need to succeed.

In Senegal, where more than half of the population is employed in agriculture, climate plans for food systems are particularly detailed.

According to the report, this is one of the only countries in which gender equality is considered as a form of sustainable development in terms of climate.

However, the authors believe that Senegal’s plan could provide more detail on how women and rural communities “can act as agents of change in the transition to sustainable agriculture and healthy eating.”

Even in the most comprehensive climate plans, there is room for improvement. People need to eat to live, but if we can fix food systems to be more resilient, that could greatly increase resilience to climate change.

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