Countries ‘ignoring food systems’ in climate action plans

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/Francesco Scatena
Getty/Francesco Scatena

Related tags Climate Climate change

Governments globally are ignoring the food system in their national plans to deliver on the Paris Agreement, according to a report.

Policymakers can improve their mitigation and adaptation contributions from food systems by as much as 25% by adding diets and food loss and waste to national climate plans, according to new research.

The report by WWF, the UN Environment Programme, EAT and Climate Focus​ said that over 90% of national commitments made to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5oC fail to account for the whole food system. Food systems, meanwhile, account for up to 37% of all greenhouse gas emissions, although the bulk of these come from outside Europe. 

Yet adding actions on diets and food loss and waste to national climate plans could reduce greenhouse emissions by an extra 12.5 Gt CO2e annually, the report claimed, while ‘continuing on a business-as-usual trajectory’ would ‘single-handedly exhaust the 1.5oC compatible emissions budgets for all sectors’.

The report identified 16 ways policymakers can take more action from farm to fork. These included action on food loss and waste, which although accounting for 8% of all GHG emissions are ‘widely ignored’ by government legislation. But by adding them to national climate plans policymakers could improve their mitigation and adaptation contributions from food systems by as much as 25%.

Other actions identified in the report were agriculture emissions reduction targets, a shift to more sustainable diets, reducing land-use change and reducing post-harvest loss. Around 15% of food emissions are from losses on-farm and in the supply chain, the authors noted. 

Together these presented an opportunity for policymakers to ‘adopt food systems solutions and set more ambitious targets and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in turn, improve biodiversity, food security and public health’, the report wrote.

Actions to tackle food systems emissions, it said, could to reduce emissions by as much as 12.5 Gt CO2e - the equivalent of taking 2.7 billion cars off the road.

“Food systems are a neglected mitigation opportunity and there is rarely any mitigation opportunity with so many sustainable development benefits,”​ said Charlotte Streck, Co-founder and Director, Climate Focus. “Eliminating excessive meat consumption, improving storage facilities and reducing food waste is good for our health and improves food security. With a checklist and concrete examples of activities and targets, this report provides guidance for policymakers to integrate food systems in their national climate strategies.”

Marco Lambertini, Director General WWF-International, added: “Ambitious, time-bound and measurable commitments to food systems transformation are needed if we are to achieve a 1.5oC future. Failing to do so is ignoring one of the main drivers of today’s climate crisis. Without action on how we produce and consume food, we cannot achieve our climate or biodiversity goals, which are the foundation to achieve food security, prevent the emergence of diseases and ultimately deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. That’s why we urge governments to include climate and nature positive food systems approaches in revised and more ambitious NDCs submitted this year.”

'Europe must share the responsibility' 

The biggest emitters identified in the report were Sudan, Brazil, China, India and Indonesia. 

But Dr Emma Keller, Head of Food at WWF-UK, said Europe, as a major importer of foods, had a responsibility to act. “The ways in which we produce and consume food are key drivers of the climate and biodiversity crises.  Yet with a systemic overhaul, food production could be part of the solution. In practice this means using farming methods that work with nature, restoring degraded or deforested land, shifting to more plant-based diets and crucially, not taking more than we need," ​she told FoodNavigator.  

“Europe is a major importer of food products and agricultural ingredients, in the UK over half our food is imported from overseas, so we have a responsibility to act. Deforestation and land conversion are the major sources of emissions in food supply chains and we have a unique opportunity to address this, through potentially ground-breaking due-diligence legislation in the EU and the UK.  Businesses can play their part in driving strong new laws, by supporting and responding to the public consultation.” ​ 

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