Food and climate change are often treated as separate issues, but conservative estimates suggest that changing the way we produce and consume food could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10.3 billion. tonnes per year, or 20% of the reduction needed by 2050 to prevent catastrophic climate change.
This is a golden opportunity for governments seeking to deliver on commitments made at the UN climate change talks, yet our new analysis reveals that food systems are generally poorly integrated into plans. national climate change measures and that obvious emission reduction measures are missed.
In collaboration with the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, we analyzed the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of 14 countries plus the European Union. It is the plans submitted to the UN that show how countries intend to achieve their emission reduction targets.
“Our new analysis reveals that food systems are generally poorly integrated into national climate plans and that obvious measures to reduce emissions are missed.”
Haseeb Bakhtary, Senior Consultant, Climate Focus
Climate plans are submitted every five years, although at the end of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow last year, countries agreed to try to update them more quickly, acknowledging the urgency for more ambitious action.
The NDCs we looked at in detail were those of Bangladesh, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Spain, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States and Vanuatu.
We found that none of them included specific measures on changing diets, even though this has the potential to reduce emissions by almost a billion tonnes per year, as well as providing associated benefits. for health and other environmental benefits.
Only France and Germany include measures to promote sustainable and healthy diets among consumers. China includes a goal of promoting “green and low-carbon lifestyles”, but its NDC does not specify whether this includes sustainable and healthy diets.
Similarly, none of the countries we studied fully account for emissions linked to food imports, in particular those linked to deforestation and the destruction of ecosystems. Countries committed at COP26 to halt deforestation and reverse it by 2030. This will require further action in NDCs to address how food production and trade fuel this problem.
Another glaring gap in most of the NDCs we reviewed related to measures to reduce food loss and waste. A third of all food produced in the world – around 1.3 billion tonnes – is lost or wasted every year. However, most countries do not include any measures to address this.
Gender is another oversight in many climate plans. Globally, women play a central role in food value chains, so any effort to meaningfully reform our food systems to reduce emissions and build resilience must involve them.
Vanuatu, Canada, Kenya and Senegal have made efforts to ensure their NDCs are gender sensitive. In contrast, the UK only includes a general reference to “gender equality” and China and the US do not specifically mention women as a key stakeholder group.
Of the countries we looked at, Colombia, Senegal and Kenya have put in place the most ambitious measures to promote more sustainable, locally-led agriculture that generates fewer emissions.
Indeed, overall, the NDCs of Kenya and Colombia score best across the board in terms of the extent to which they recognize and take action to address the key role of food systems in driving climate change. emissions. These two countries stood out as having been relatively more transparent, participatory, equitable and holistic in their consideration of food systems within the NDC process.
Senegal is an interesting case. As chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries at the UN climate negotiations and holder of the presidency of the African Union, he has an influential role to play.
The food and agriculture sector is of particular importance in the country, with just over half of the population (52%) employed in agriculture.
Senegal’s NDC contains ambitious goals and actions related to food systems that establish important links between climate action and food production and distribution.
However, there are gaps which, if addressed in the next NDC, could help deliver benefits across a number of policy priorities, such as food security and nutrition. These include promoting more regenerative practices – such as small-scale irrigation and post-harvest equipment – and tackling food waste.
Overall, the research we carried out was revealing of the myriad opportunities for governments to use food system reform not just to reduce emissions, but to realize a range of other benefits, such as improved population health, sustainable job creation, and broader environmental benefits such as healthier air, water, and soil.
The report provides a toolkit for governments and those supporting their climate policy agenda to take steps to better integrate food systems reform into their NDCs, and reap significant dividends.
Haseeb Bakhtary is a senior consultant at the international consultancy and think tank Climate Focus and co-author of the report of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.
This piece was produced by the SciDev.Net Global Office.