New report recommends transforming food systems under climate change

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

A dairy farm in Botswana.  Pic: Getty Images/poco_bw
A dairy farm in Botswana. Pic: Getty Images/poco_bw

Related tags Climate change Climate coronavirus COVID-19 Dairy

With the coronavirus crisis intensifying hunger even in wealthy countries, food, agriculture and environment experts from six continents have responded with a roadmap for resetting food systems already being hit hard by climate change.

The 70-page report, “Actions to Transform Food Systems Under Climate Change,”​ was developed under the guidance of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). It comes on the heels of a new assessment from the United Nations warning the pandemic could precipitate a “global food emergency.”

In the document, dairy is mentioned, as there is a recommendation to incentivize reductions in dairy consumption in 15 high- and middle-income countries and all C40 cities by 2030.

While overall, the document gives a “report card” ranking for the global food system as “grave concern,” it offers a global plan to rebuild all types of food production around the world—from smallholder farming to large-scale production—that have been rocked by the pandemic but will face even greater challenges from climate change.

“It’s time for all of us to get talking about food and most importantly about food systems,”​ said David Nabarro, a World Health Organization Special Envoy for COVID-19 and Curator of the Food Systems Dialogue, who is kicking off a round-the-world “relay” briefing on the action plan.

“That’s all the different elements—from food production to processing to marketing and consumption, and all the steps along the way.”

The report lays out an 11-part plan—and points to a wide number of readily available innovations—that can make food systems far more resilient to both climate and non-climate shocks.

The 11 actions include efforts to sustainably increase food production in developing countries in ways that increase incomes and food security in poor, agriculture-dependent rural communities. Doing so, the report states, could dramatically reduce the need for humanitarian assistance in the coming years, freeing up billions of dollars for investing in social safety nets.

The report also offers strategies to avoid expanding food production into carbon-rich tropical forests and explores options that can support healthy, climate-friendly diets.

In addition, the report lays out a policy framework for directing US$320bn in public and private finance to food systems transformation. And it seeks more support for “youth-centered social movements” committed to building sustainable food systems, noting they can be especially effective agents of change.

“Our work over the past 10 years to address the impacts of climate change on food production, and vice versa, has produced a series of transformative interventions that can energize efforts to ‘build back better’ in the aftermath of COVID-19,” ​said CCAFS Director Bruce Campbell.

“This endeavor is especially important for several hundred million smallholder farmers in the developing world. They were already struggling against climate change before this pandemic hit and will face even greater climate threats long after it has ended.”

He added, “The disruptions caused by this terrible pandemic have at least awakened the world to the fact that our food systems are far more vulnerable than many realized.

“Climate change is already compounding these problems, but the solutions we present—which seek bold transformations in everything from farming to trade, diets and government policies—offer an opportunity to pursue a much brighter future for people and our planet.”

While there are concerns the pandemic could significantly increase hunger and malnutrition in the short-term, the report points to even greater dangers looming in the coming decade as temperatures rise, weather extremes become more common and rainfall less predictable. It cites recent research findings noting that by 2050, climate change could displace 200m people, the equivalent of roughly two-thirds of the population of the US, and that droughts, floods and heat waves will become more frequent and intense.

It also notes that by 2050, the impact of elevated carbon dioxide emissions on crop nutrients could cause an additional 175m people to suffer zinc deficiency and 133m to become protein deficient.

At the same time, the report offers evidence that farmers and food systems around the world are not destined for disaster—especially if the lessons from COVID-19 awaken action to confront climate impacts.

Dairy impacts

Under the “Reduce emissions from diets and value chains” Action Area, the report said one of the actions recommended is to shift to healthy and sustainable climate-friendly diets by incentivizing dramatic reductions in beef and dairy consumption in 15 high- and middle-income countries and all C40 cities by 2030.

The report says the outcome envisaged is beef and dairy consumption is reduced in high-income countries to support healthier and more sustainable diets.

For example, the 2019 EAT Lancet report recommends reducing red meat consumption by 50%, and reducing dairy consumption from a C40 average of 106 kg (220 kg in Europe) to 90 kg per person per year.

It recommends consumers “shift to protein sources with lower carbon footprints while improving their health.”

The report says consumption of beef and dairy is the largest single driver of agricultural GHGs globally. Beef production contributes 2.9 Gt CO2e/yr or 41% of total agricultural emissions, while dairy contributes about 1.4 Gt CO2e/yr or 20%.

Under its action on reducing food loss and waste, the report is looking to target 50% reductions by 2030 in food loss and waste in five major supply chains where both greenhouse gasses and loss or waste are high.  To address this, the report says regions with high levels of loss and waste should be targeted, as well as supply chains with high emissions, e.g., dairy, meat, rice, fruits and vegetables.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a collaboration among CGIAR Centers and Research Programs, led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), part of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

Report authors:
Chair: Achim Steiner​, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Grethel Aguilar​, Acting Director General, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Khalid Bomba​, Chief Executive Officer, Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency
Juan Pablo Bonilla​, Manager, Sustainability and Climate Change Department, Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
Andrew Campbell​, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
Ruben Echeverria​, Director General Emeritus, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
Rikin Gandhi​, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Digital Green
Connie Hedegaard​, Chair of the Board, CONCITO and KR Foundation
Diane Holdorf​, Managing Director, Food & Nature, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
Naoko Ishii​, Chief Executive Officer, Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn​, Former President, World Food Prize Foundation
Bas Ruter​, Director of Sustainability, Rabobank
Ishmael Sunga​, Chief Executive Officer, Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU)
Pavan Sukhdev​, Founder & CEO, GIST Advisory
Sunny Verghese​, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Olam International
Juergen Voegele​, Vice President for Sustainable Development, World Bank Group
Paul Winters​, Associate Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

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