Unilever-backed coalition targets sustainable land-use

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Sustainable development Sustainability

The Food and Land Use Coalition has been formed to coordinate efforts to tackle the “huge opportunities and challenges” in how land is used to generate food.

The coalition, chaired by Unilever CEO Paul Polman, aims to define, coordinate and accelerate the “transformation”​ of food and land-use systems in order to “regenerate”​ bio-physical resources, provide the world’s 9bn-plus population with “healthy, nutritious food” and offer 500m smallholder families a “decent livelihood”​ by 2050.

“Today’s systems are not fit for purpose: they are damaging for the environment; erode natural capital; allow huge inequalities in nutrition; waste one-third of food produced; and keep close to 500m rural farmers and fishers at or below the $2 a day poverty line,”​ a spokesperson for the initiative told FoodNavigator. “Uncoordinated change will be too slow.”

The Food and Land-Use Coalition is a collaboration between private sector, governmental, institutional, philanthropic, academic and civil society groups.

The Management Committee is made up of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (hosted at SYSTEMIQ), the New Climate Economy (hosted at the World Resources Institute), the EAT Foundation, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Yara International and Unilever.

Speaking at earlier this week at the World Economic Forum, Polman said that the Coalition’s workstream consists of “three strands”​.

“One is science-based targets, which is also how we stacked the issue of climate change when we went into Paris, how we got companies to sign up on the RE100 [renewable power pledge]… Be sure that the targets are science-based. Then specific action steps… And then, the last but not lease, country plans, because at the end of the day rubber hits the road in the countries.”

The Coalition plans to calculate these science-based targets to quantify “what sustainable land-use must look like by 2015 at global and local levels”​ and, back-casting from these targets, it will define the “long-term pathways”​ to get there.

In order to stimulate investment, the Coalition will create a “complementary portfolio of business and financing opportunities”.

Solutions will be sought on a national and local level. “They will entail policy reforms, coalitions of key local actors and detailed ‘action roadmaps’ for achieving a viable food and land use economy in each location,”​ the Coalition spokesperson suggested.

Food sector ‘at centre’ of SDGs

According to Polman’s assessment, policymakers are failing to recognise the central role of the food sector in advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“If you look at the G20s or G8s… the last time the food sector was on the agenda really seriously was in Los Cabos [in 2012] with Felipe Calderon… The rest has paid lip service to this.

“Twenty-five percent of climate change easily comes from the food chain. The issues of refugees, of education… Every element of the 17 goals that are in the Sustainable Development goals actually – although food security is goal number two – are related.”

Evolving the food chain is therefore essential for the delivery of the Sustainable Development goals, Polman argued.

“What I think about the food chain is all the solutions can be had with just willpower. In the area of the food chain, we have the answers.”

Polman said that the food industry is increasingly aware of the need to act on sustainable development. “We are seeing a level of moral leadership in this crucial area that I have not seen before. Perhaps one of the things that drives this is… that whenever you look, the cost of not acting is starting to become greater than the cost of acting, so increasingly it makes economic sense as well.”

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