Policy brief: Food systems approaches to a sustainable future

Food systems approaches to a sustainable future

This policy brief conveys five key messages for this year’s Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change (COP24), based on the outputs of the Global Food Security programme’s Paris-compliant healthy food systems workshop. This document outlines why a food systems approach is required to meet the Paris Agreement and the wider Sustainable Development Goals, as well as to ensure future food security for a rapidly growing global population in the face of ongoing climate change.

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Second Paris-compliant healthy food system Taskforce workshop

On 15 October a Taskforce of academics, industry and policymakers attended a GFS workshop in London to discuss and develop four different 2050 food system scenarios that meet the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. The workshop was chaired by Professor Tim Benton and co-led by the three other scenario leads.

The first part of the workshop utilised the expertise in the room to expand and refine each scenario. The second half of the workshop focused on stakeholders; who would ‘win’ or ‘lose’ in each scenario? What would the wider implications be for government, business and society? And finally, how can the research agenda be shaped to maximise the benefits and minimise the trade-offs in each scenario?

The workshop ended with the Taskforce constructing a list of key policy messages for industry and government, which will be released in the form of a policy brief in time for the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These messages include the futility of trying to meet the Paris Agreement without addressing the Sustainable Development Goals, and the importance of dietary change in the battle against climate change.

Future scenarios for a Paris-compliant healthy food system

At the first meeting the Taskforce identified a list of critical uncertainties for our future food system. Two of these variables were used to create the axes for a scenarios exercise: globalised vs localised and Paris Agreement-compliant vs SDGs-compliant (the former focusing on emissions only and the latter on all aspects of sustainability). A scenarios team consisting of Professor Tim Benton (University of Leeds), Dr Laura Wellesley (Unicef), Professor Aled Jones (Anglia Ruskin University) and Dr Pete Falloon (Met Office) are currently developing these scenarios, and these will form the basis of discussion at the next Taskforce meeting later this year. The meeting will refine the scenarios and determine the implications for research and policy.

GFS Taskforce on Paris-compliant healthy food systems

A new interdisciplinary Taskforce has been initiated to advance thinking on Paris-compliant healthy food systems through a futures mapping exercise. This work will develop a clearer picture of what a Paris-compliant healthy food system might look like in practice, identifying a number of plausible futures, the food system transformation pathways for achieving these scenarios and the associated research and policy challenges. The first meeting of the Taskforce has been scheduled for December 2017.

Insight report on Paris-compliant healthy food systems published

Insight, issue six: Paris-compliant healthy food systems

GFS Insight aims to offer a balanced and interdisciplinary representation of the current state of knowledge in a particular area relating to food security. This issue outlines the need for a food system that supports both health and the Paris climate agreement, exploring impacts of food production and consumption as well as potential interventions to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions across the system.

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Paris-compliant healthy food systems workshop report published

Paris-compliant healthy food systems

With the global food system as a whole currently responsible for around 30% of total anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions, the agri-food sector must adapt if we are to meet the terms of the Paris climate agreement. This report details discussions at an interdisciplinary workshop considering what a Paris-compliant healthy food system might look like in practice, and mechanisms by which this kind of food system might be realised.

(You can view PDF documents by downloading a PDF reader. We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox web browsers.)

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Paris-compliant healthy food systems workshop

An interdisciplinary and cross-sector delegation explored what a food system that better supports health while also being compliant with the Paris Agreement might look like in practice, and mechanisms by which this kind of food system might be realised.

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Key findings

  • There is scope for GHG emissions reductions to be further targeted in food production, but there must be greater dialogue with producers and manufacturers to better understand how knowledge can be combined and practically implemented
  • Change to the demand side of the food system will be necessary, but the required level of change and most effective mechanisms of change need further clarification
  • Mainstreaming messaging on the connection between food and climate change has significant scope to support food system change
  • Areas for further research include:
    • Robust metrics and targets to quantify required change
    • Mechanisms to support social change
    • Understanding how to produce food in a climate that is at least 1.5 degrees warmer
    • Possible win-win scenarios for producers and food business in a high quality low quantity market
    • Approaches for food policy that integrate all food system drivers as well as health and climate change
    • Economic costs to UK of action and inaction

Scientific rationale

Entering into force on 4 November 2016, the Paris agreement saw all 197 parties to the UNFCCC pledge to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to “well below” 2°C and to “pursue efforts” towards 1.5°C (ref 1).

With the global food system as a whole currently responsible for around 30% of total anthropogenic greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions (ref 2), it is clear that the agri-food sector must adapt in order to support the Paris agreement – especially given projections that food-related emissions at current levels could account for the entire carbon budget for a 2°C temperature rise by 2050 (ref 3). At the same time there is still a need to achieve global food security, supplying sufficient nutritious, safe and equitable food to meet the demands of the growing global population. The unification of thinking around sustainability and health presents an opportunity to find food system solutions that address both challenges simultaneously – encompassed by the ideal of a Paris-compliant healthy food system.

However, it is currently unclear what a Paris-compliant healthy food system would look like in practice. There is certainly need for systemic change, but more work needs to be done to understand what mixture of pre and post farm-gate areas will be the most viable and effective targets for intervention.

References

  1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: The Paris Agreement.
  2. Designing Climate Change Mitigation Plans That Add Up (Environ. Sci. Technol., Volume 47, No. 14, p8062–8069, 2013).
  3. Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption (Chatham House, 2015).