Food systems must align with climate and biodiversity targets

food systems

Food systems must be transformed to align with action on climate change and biodiversity loss, according to a new report from Chatham House.

Food system transformation is critical in enabling meaningful, joined-up global action on both climate change and biodiversity loss, the Chatham House report urges.

International cooperation on climate, biodiversity and land issues, biodiversity and climate has not been aligned with global treaties to tackle these critical issues, and the decade ahead must be a major turning point to avoid the worst impacts.

Current global biodiversity and climate change mitigation plans up to 2030 lack detail and suitable levels of ambition. Critical funding gaps in the region of $536 billion per year risk destabilising biodiversity and climate efforts. Meanwhile, temperature rise and biodiversity loss continue, increasing the possibility of irreversible climate impacts and ecosystem destabilisation.

Insufficient ambition, detail and funding in all countries are not the only barriers to progress on this issue. Food is a critical area in which climate change mitigation and biodiversity policies intersect. Food systems contribute one-third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and agricultural land-use change is the leading cause of biodiversity loss.

These trends are expected to continue. Anything short of a food system transformation is at odds with meeting climate change mitigation and biodiversity goals – including those targeting the protection of land, and particularly those focused on biodiversity net gains and limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C.

While improvements are required across the global food system, the immediate focus must be on reducing the burden of animal agriculture. However, current ambitions to decrease farm-level impacts alone are insufficient, and action is also needed to reduce production of animal-sourced foods.

As the largest advanced economies and wealthiest liberal democracies, the G7 members have a vital role to play in the next decade, both in terms of domestic policy and influence over lower-income countries. Wealthy countries with a legacy of emissions and biodiversity loss have the means and moral obligation to not only align their domestic activities with climate and biodiversity goals, but to also facilitate the collective global action required to meet international climate and biodiversity targets.

Actions for the wealthiest nations, including those in the G7, must include a shift to a strategic approach based on protecting areas with high biodiversity and climate value, at home and abroad. This must go beyond simply designating an area as protected on a map.

With restoration of carbon and bio-diverse areas there is substantial potential to achieve this in high-income and upper-middle-income countries but it is only possible with large-scale reductions in agricultural land use, enabled by shifting production away from animal agriculture.

A change to food system production and consumption that is commensurate with domestic climate and biodiversity goals. This shift should protect globally important carbon and biodiversity repositories by reducing the demand for agricultural land abroad.

The key areas of biodiversity and climate action for all countries are to: ensure that domestic biodiversity and climate policies over the next decade align with global biodiversity and climate change mitigation goals and pursue only food policies that are consistent with domestic climate change mitigation and biodiversity targets, and do not preclude attainment of climate and biodiversity goals at the global level.

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