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Real Climate Action Starts With What's on Your Plate

Global food systems are at the root of many man-made challenges, but they could also be the catalysts for creating healthy and sustainable societies. No matter what political ambitions we put forward for the future, real change starts on our plates. Today, we launch the EAT in Sustainia publication that highlights the opportunities and solutions outlining the food systems of tomorrow.

2015 is a year filled with hope for political action on the world’s biggest challenges. A week ago, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which range from eradicating poverty and hunger, to protecting our land and oceans, to limiting climate change. In December this year, the COP21 political negotiations in Paris offer an opportunity for the world’s heads of state to agree on an ambitious and binding agreement on emission targets. And today is World Food Day, which urges the global community to realize the connection between food and rural poverty.

Climate change, hunger, inequality, poverty, protection of land and oceans, reduction of global emissions. While these seem like disconnected challenges, there is one key thread that connects them and offers an entry point for change: food!

By now, it is an established fact that our current food systems are unsustainable for our planet, our health, and our economics. The food and agriculture sector is responsible for up to 29 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and its share could increase an additional 30 percent by 2050.

Moreover, our food systems are failing at one of their most basic jobs: keeping us healthy. In 2015, approximately 795 million people do not have enough food, 1.9 billion are consuming too much, and 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries and up to 20 percent in developing countries.

This is putting a strain on global economies and the loss of biodiversity and the costs of NCDs are counted in trillions.

Looking ahead, we risk scaling up unhealthy and unsustainable systems to meet the appetites of the 9.7 billion people that will walk this earth in 2050. In order to create truly sustainable societies, food has to become a focus point.

We Can't Create Change on an Empty Stomach

Zooming in on the SDGs we see that many are either directly or indirectly related to food, and thus present us with the opportunity to use sustainable food systems as entry-points to achieving the SDG agenda.

For instance, a goal of creating good jobs and economic growth cannot overlook that farming represents the largest employment sector in the world. Smallholder farmers provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. 
Providing them with better access to resources, innovations, and markets will not only help the individual farmer to secure a more sustainable livelihood, but also create ripple effects for his or her family, and local economy.

If we wish to eradicate poverty, we must remember that the global food crisis of 2007-2008—caused
by soaring food prices—forced 100 million
 people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries.

And if we wish to combat gender inequality, we must realize that rural women in developing countries produce between 60-80 percent of the food in their home nations and are responsible for half of the world’s total food production. Yet, women own less than 2 percent of land globally.

Many of the man-made challenges we face are complex and interconnected, but recalibrating our food systems to become healthy and sustainable will catalyze positive change in all areas of society.

Luckily, all over the world, solutions are sprouting within the triple-helix of food, health, and sustainability and these opportunities are outlining the food systems of tomorrow.

The publication EAT in Sustainia gathers some of the best opportunities and solutions within the food sector and offers concrete examples and inspiration of how food can be used to create sustainable societies and healthy lives.

From solar-powered irrigation in Kenya to nudging in Norway, local innovations, technologies and initiatives are proving that better food systems are possible. However, bottom-up change alone isn’t enough.

As we go forward with our trying to reach political targets for creating a more sustainable world, collaboration and co-creation between politicians, food producers, farmers, scientists and consumers offers the only viable road to lasting change.

EAT in Sustainia is a collaboration between Sustainia and the global initiative EAT and merges the newest knowledge on health, food and sustainability and ready and available solutions. Download it here free of charge.

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