Improved action on food systems can reduce global emissions: Report

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Nairobi– Policymakers can improve the chances of achieving climate goals and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by making more specific commitments to transforming national food systems, a report said on Tuesday.

The report ‘Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for Food Systems’ by WWF, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), EAT and Climate Focus finds countries are missing significant opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and identifies 16 ways policymakers could take more action, from farm to fork.

Currently, diets and food loss and waste are widely ignored, but by adding them to national climate plans, policymakers can improve their mitigation and adaptation contributions from food systems, by as much as 25 per cent.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries are expected to revise or resubmit their NDCs every five years.

This year, therefore, policymakers have the opportunity 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.

Food systems — which gather all the elements and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food — account for up to 37 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions; continuing on a business as usual trajectory will single-handedly exhaust the 1.5 degrees Celsius compatible emissions budgets for all sectors.

Although 89 per cent of NDCs mention agriculture production, agriculture emissions reduction targets are mainly included in wider land-use targets.

More notably, other actions in the food system, such as reducing food loss and waste, or shifting to more sustainable diets, are widely ignored, despite presenting the combined opportunity to reduce emissions by as much as 12.5 Gt CO2e — the equivalent of taking 2.7 billion cars off the road.

“Ambitious, time-bound and measurable commitments to food systems transformation are needed if we are to achieve a 1.5 degrees Celsius future. Failing to do so is ignoring one of the main drivers of today’s climate crisis,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General WWF-International.

“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.

“The pandemic has exposed the fragility of our food supply systems, from complex value chains to impacts on our ecosystems. But it has also demonstrated that businesses and people are ready to build back better. This crisis offers us a chance to radically rethink how we produce and consume food,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

“For example, reorienting consumption by halving food waste and catalyzing a shift towards more plant-rich diets, is also a powerful climate mitigation tool to take advantage of. It is up to us to seize this opportunity and put sustainable food systems at the heart of the green recovery.”

The 16 actions identified in the report include reducing land-use change and conversion of natural habitats, which could reduce emissions by 4.6 Gt CO2e per year.

Comparably, reducing food loss and waste, which accounts for eight per cent of all GHG emissions, could reduce emissions by 4.5 Gt CO2e per year.

Yet only 11 countries currently mention food loss in their plans and none consider food waste.

Improving production methods and reducing methane emissions from livestock, could reduce emissions by up to 1.44 Gt CO2e per year, but much greater reductions could be achieved by shifting to healthier and more sustainable diets with a higher proportion of plant-based than animal-based foods which could avoid emissions of up to eight Gt CO2e each year.

No current national climate plans explicitly discuss more sustainable diets.

The report finds that developed countries are less likely than developing countries to provide sector-specific mitigation actions for agriculture in their current climate plans though in absolute terms, the number of specific actions for reducing emissions in the food system in developing countries is also low.

Through August 2020, 15 NDC updates and revisions have been submitted and though some feature agriculture, action is still lacking.

Early indications are that sustainable food consumption and food loss and waste will continue to be ignored in the review process.

None of the updates and revisions submitted mention them in their mitigation contributions or policies and measures. (IANS)

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