With nature’s ability to support human life reaching a breaking point, changing what we put on our plates has become an urgent priority
This year, the United Nations is hosting a special meeting to âraise awareness and elevate public debateâ on how food system reform can help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But the world needs more than a food systems summit. He needs a food revolution. With nature’s ability to support human life having already reached a breaking point, changing what we put on our plates has become an urgent priority – a priority that will play a crucial role in determining future living conditions on the planet. Earth.
In the G20 countries, the majority (60%) of people know that we need to make a rapid transition to renewables this decade. Not only are the necessary technologies increasingly available and affordable; pressure from civil society and the financial sector is increasing. Yet only 41% of people agree that we also need to transform our food systems during this decisive decade. This glaring gap in consciousness shows that we need a revival.
For decades, terrestrial ecosystems have absorbed about 30% of excess carbon dioxide emissions, protecting us from the worst climate shocks. But over the past 50 years, we’ve erased at least half of these natural assets. When forests, for example, are destroyed for industrial food production, they not only stop absorbing CO2; they start to emit it. The assets that contributed to the planet’s resilience suddenly become liabilities that undermine it. This double whammy is the reason why food production now accounts for more than a third of global emissions.
We are on the cusp of being on the right track for a future without fossil fuels. But this achievement will make little sense to future generations if we don’t also transform our broken food system. Just as we push back on fossil fuels (while thanking them for all they have done for us), we also need to phase out industrial agriculture.
Industrial agriculture was conceived with the noble purpose of feeding a growing population. But it is no longer suitable for this use. In addition to its massive contribution to global warming – which will lead to more crop failures and increase hunger – the current system leads to massive levels of food waste, monopolization of seeds (which leaves small farmers at the mercy of multinational corporations), degradation of once fertile soils, poisoned waterways and catastrophic loss of biodiversity. All of this constitutes an injustice that we can no longer tolerate. Ultimately, if we fail in nature, we fail in climate, and we fail ourselves.
Many people recognize that we are approaching dangerous climate tipping points, and most – 82% in G20 countries – want change that protects nature. So let’s show them what that would look like. This year’s Food Systems Summit is an opportunity to build momentum in some of the most important priority areas of food systems reform. For example, we urgently need to make regenerative agriculture the dominant model globally. This form of agriculture relies on farming and grazing practices that nourish the soil rather than kill it.
In addition, to continue to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population, we must also expand where food is grown. Agriculture can be practiced in all available spaces, from roofs, balconies and landscaped car parks to fields and family gardens. And, finally, we need to make sure people understand that what we eat can directly contribute to our own well-being, as well as that of the planet.
The good news is that we are not starting from scratch. The EAT-Lancet Commission has already scientifically defined a diet that feeds both people and the planet. This diet, which is easily accessible to people all over the world, is characterized by a drastic reduction in meat consumption and a proportional increase in vegetable protein.
Vegetable proteins are to the food sector what renewables are to the energy sector. Safe, tasty and increasingly affordable and accessible, these proteins will soon proliferate widely, in part because investors are already seeing their market potential. By 2040, children will be horrified to learn that we are mass-producing and slaughtering animals on factory farms, just as they will be in disbelief that we drive in cars that spit toxic fumes into the air.
Another good news is that we are rapidly strengthening our understanding of the relationship between soil health and food production. We already know how to improve crop rotations and we are expanding the use of water harvesting systems and conservation agriculture. This allows us to move away from plowing that irritates the soil and emits carbon emissions.
In addition, the Land Institute is developing new forms of staple food crops rather than annual ones. Instead of having to sow their seeds every year, farmers will be able to harvest the same plant for four, five or six years in a row. And because these perennial crops have deeper root systems than annual crops, they are more resilient and take up more carbon from the soil. They also require much less diesel in the tractor.
We know we can act quickly as a global community when we need to. The pandemic has taught us that rapid change is possible. Now we need to bring the same urgency (and even more tracking) to fixing our relationship to food and how we produce it. Our food system is our most essential survival mechanism. But we will not be able to transform it in time if only a minority of us are even aware of the challenge.
This year’s summit is an opportunity to raise awareness. But this should be understood as just one step on the way. We can each take that extra step with each meal we share. Changing what we eat is a radical act that will make us and nature healthier and happier. By making food choices that respect nature and helping spread the word, each of us can help keep global warming within the 1.5 Â° Celsius limit set by the Paris Agreement. A healthier plate makes the planet a safer place. – Project union
Christiana Figueres, founding partner of Global Optimism, is co-author of the best-selling book The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis, and co-host of the Outrage + Optimism podcast. She was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2016, overseeing the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted by 190 countries and the European Union.