Broken food systems are responsible for one in 10 of the global population going hungry and one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Meaning all hopes of ending hunger and tackling the climate crisis hang on efforts to transform food systems.
Governments worldwide waking up to this are now mobilising, through the UN Food Systems Summit programme, to bring forward action plans and commitments to shake up food systems. This week’s pre-summit in Rome, a preamble to the main event that will take place in New York in September, is setting the tone in terms of ambition, and in recognising the scale of the challenge.
Transformational change is what we need and it’s urgent, Peter Bakker, CEO, WBCSD
Over the past 12 months the summit has engaged with 145 countries, highlighting to governments the need for a strategic rethink that can help bring food systems back from the brink of collapse.
Young people, Indigenous Peoples, farmers and women are taking centre stage in Rome, alongside global decision makers, as the UN pursues a bottoms up transformation of food systems. “It’s the first time that I’m seeing a UN process that is inclusive, diverse and open to all stakeholders,” said Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of the Pan-African Farmers Organization (PAFO).
Countries are being urged to formulate bold commitments ahead of the New York summit, with the aim that swift implementation will follow.
“A world without hunger is possible. We have the knowledge, we have the technology,” said Gerd Müller, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. “But we need more money and more investment to eradicate hunger.”
Too many government incentives, worth around $100 billion, are still supporting destructive forms of food production, Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity, said on day one of the pre-summit. This money needs to be redirected to support regenerative agriculture and equip small scale farmers with the tools and finances they need to adopt sustainable practices.
Joachim von Braun, who chairs the Summit’s Scientific Group, said the scaling of social safety nets must go hand-in-hand with investment in productivity. “There is no time to be lost,” he added.
When people are going without food, it is clear there is no time to be lost. What makes it unbearably frustrating is the fact that solutions exist: there is already enough food to go around, one-third is wasted; and innovative solutions are available right now that can support the transition to restorative practices that would make food systems a carbon sink, rather than an emitter. Which means it is a lack of will power that is responsible for human suffering. Those who make commitments to the summit in September need to be held accountable for them.
Glasgow is the place, 2021 is the time
The New York summit will be followed by COP26 in Glasgow, when governments worldwide will confirm their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as the Paris commitments are known. Many have already done so, with America announcing in April a 52% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a drop from 2005 levels. At the same time Japan raised its emissions reduction target to 46% by 2030 – from 2013 levels, a sharp rise from its previous goal of 26%. While Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, also confirmed the country’s NDC is to reduce emissions by 45% from its 2005 levels.
Welcome steps, which led John Kerry, the 68th U.S. Secretary of State, and the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, to say that ‘Glasgow is the place, 2021 is the time’.
It is still not enough, though, to limit global warming to 2˚C, ideally 1.5˚C, above pre industrial levels and avert a climate disaster that will put human survival in jeopardy.
All countries need to do more and China, due to its size, must show the leadership it has demonstrated in becoming a renewable energy powerhouse, and go further with its NDCs. The country currently plans to hit peak emissions by 2030, and become net zero by 2060. There is not a decade to waste allowing emissions to rise, though, and John Kerry has said this trajectory would put planet-saving temperature targets beyond reach. Which makes it imperative China now commits to going that extra mile with its NDCs.
TransitionZero, a leading financial analytics company using real-time data to support the transition to a zero carbon economy, is hopeful China’s habit of under committing and over delivering will prevail.
“We believe China will meet the net zero target ahead of time due to the country’s track record of solving problems,” TransitionZero said.
Countries making pledges may ring hollow with many – and with good reason. Efforts to progress the 2030 Global Goals are off target, and corporations, a key part of the jigsaw, have a long history of failing to deliver. In a 2020 report by the Changing Markets Foundation it was revealed the 10 biggest plastic polluters were keen on making big promises on pollution, rather less so on keeping them. On Coca-Cola, which has committed to a ‘World Without Waste’, the report showed that over the last three decades it has ‘continuously broken, delayed or shifted the goalposts on most of its impressive-sounding targets’.
Nonetheless, targets are vitally important, and countries and corporations must be forced to meet, and ideally exceed, the commitments they make at this year’s landmark events for people and planet.
What should give everyone hope that the rhetoric will now be backed up by action are the innovations that allow for the real-time monitoring of emissions, and other key indicators, as well as the conveyor belt of profitable solutions being designed to protect the planet, which will appeal to policymakers. Not to mention an educated and motivated global population putting pressure on leaders to deliver.
There are endless examples of technology innovations that can support climate action. One is the solution being pioneered by the Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) coalition, which Al Gore helped organise with TransitionZero.
“Our goal is to combine satellite data from existing constellations, artificial intelligence, and an array of other resources to produce an independent accounting of all significant sources of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions on the planet,” Gore said.
He added: “New technologies like Climate TRACE represent a major breakthrough for crafting and implementing policies – and there are a multitude of other use cases that this new tool will unlock to help the world meet its goal of net- zero emissions as soon as possible.”
Together: bold commitments, will power, the continued influence of people power, innovation, and a fair distribution of financial resources can help deliver a resilient future that leaves nobody behind – there is still time… just.