There was a glaring omission at last year’s COP26 — food. Given the global food system accounts for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and is the single largest emitting sector, it’s clear we can’t solve the climate crisis unless we fix food. It’s therefore great news that for the first time there will be an official Food and Agriculture Pavilion hosted by the United Nations, taking over a 250m2 area of COP27. To truly fix our food system however, there needs to be a laser focus on the 3 C’s: commitments, cash and citizen action.
A number of historic commitments were made at COP26, in particular around methane and deforestation, both of which are inextricably linked to our food system. Unfortunately however, very little progress has been made since:
- Methane — 119 countries & blocs including the US and EU joined the COP26 pledge to slash 2030 methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels. However so far only 15 signatories have actually come up with concrete plans to do so, according to the World Resources Institute
- Deforestation — more than 100 countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030, covering over 80% of the world’s remaining tropical forests. To achieve this, the area deforested needs to shrink by 10% each year from the 2020 area, whereas deforestation fell by just 6.3% last year according to the Forest Declaration Platform
In addition to a rapid acceleration of progress in these two areas, we also need bold new commitments in another key area: food waste. Globally over 30% of the food produced each year gets wasted, which is responsible for approximately 8–10% of all global emissions — equivalent to the emissions from the entire fashion industry. In fact Project Drawdown has identified reducing food waste as the #1 most powerful solution for a 2C warmed world, and so at COP27 we really need to see a pledge to at least halve food waste by 2030, in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3
Quite rightly a big focus of COP27 is going to be compensation. Africa, the host continent for example, has contributed just 3% towards historic carbon emissions, and yet has been bearing the brunt of the devastating consequences of a rapidly heating planet for years. It’s utterly shameful that rich nations have been dragging their feet over the $100 billion annual commitment to the Global South for adaptation and resilience; and it’s clear that so much more is needed, which will no doubt be a topic of heated discussion at COP27.
An important conversation also needs to be had about another type of cash — subsidies. The global food industry is underpinned by $540 billion in Government subsidies, which is on track to rise to $1.8 trillion by 2030. According to the UN, the majority (87%) of this support to agricultural producers is “either price distorting or harmful to nature and health”. Repurposing this support towards a truly sustainable and regenerative food system would not only play a pivotal role in helping solve the climate and biodiversity crises, it could also help feed a world of almost 10 billion people by 2050.
Of all the sectors requiring climate action, food is the one that feels most personal to most people. At previous COPs, climate protests have been part of the heart and soul of the annual negotiations, with activists holding marches, hunger strikes, sit-ins and other forms of civil disobedience to stress the urgency of the climate crisis. It’s therefore incredibly disappointing that as a result of the long standing ban on public protest in Egypt, demonstrators will this year have to gather in a purpose built space away from the conference centre. If COP27 is to live up to its full potential, and if the food system incumbents are to be provoked into action, it’s essential that the urgent voices of everyday citizens are heard loud and clear.
REASONS FOR HOPE
Last week Deloitte published their “2022 Climate Check: Business’ views on climate action ahead of COP27”, which was based on a survey of 700 business executives across 14 major economies. The message coming out of this was surprisingly optimistic: 75% of the survey’s respondents claimed that COP27 will generate the desired outcomes towards the Paris Agreement. Whilst 87% of respondents believe that investing in sustainability will generate long term economic benefits.
At OLIO we believe that business, which to date has helped create so many of the problems humanity faces today, if effectively harnessed, can be an incredible force for good too.
SEE YOU THERE?