Desperately seeking climate ambition
Why food and the food supply chain needs to be addressed as a part of the solution for climate change.
“There’s a need to raise ambition…”
This phrase seemed to echo in the corridors and meeting rooms of the UN’s latest round of climate change negotiations. This is code for change is not coming fast enough, and it will soon be too late.
The prevailing mood during the first week of the conference, despite many exciting projects and innovative science, seemed to be one of grim determination. Clinging to hope against the odds and against mounting evidence that time is running short to address climate change and prevent dangerous levels of warming.
When we need to be so ambitious, it seemed incredulous that the host government were promoting ‘clean coal’ whilst nearly everybody agrees that the best place for coal is in the ground. The statement of António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, sounded bleak and almost despairing when he said that the time had come for civil society to turn to sub-national governments and cities to take forward the standard for ambitious action.
So why were we there?
Feedback were at COP24 to try to ensure that amid green energy, climate finance and low-carbon transport, the role of the food system and in particular, preventing food waste will be a key part of the conversation about reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions. Furthermore, addressing runaway production and consumption of industrial meat.
We are concerned in particular with the mass production of meat and dairy by large global corporations, who could be termed ‘Big Meat’. If they continue on a business as usual basis, they will gobble over 80% of our carbon budget in 2050 to remain below 1.5° Celsius of warming. Look out for more on this from my colleague Carina Millstone soon.
Food, food waste and climate change
As far as food waste is concerned, halving it by 2050 has been ranked as the 3rd most effective response to climate change in a comprehensive review by Project Drawdown, and preventing waste is literally one of the low-hanging fruits of addressing food system emissions.
Despite the urgent need for action on the climate challenge posed by our food system, we were struck by the conspicuous absence of major food corporations at COP24. Sad to say, it seems that food corporations still aren’t too worried about their role in generating runaway climate change. They also don’t appear to be concerned with what regulators might do to circumscribe their more damaging business practices, such as the colossal waste that occurs in food business supply chains. I discussed this on a panel at the UK ‘pavilion’ (essentially the UK government’s stand at COP), challenging the UK government to push forward the trend towards transparency by businesses on their food waste. Most importantly, this must include waste in their supply chains, particularly on the farms that supply them.
What can policy do?
We need to ask our governments – regional and national – to use public spending to prioritise local, low-waste food chains. Why should a hospital in Devon be contracting a multinational food corporation like Sodexo to supply their patients’ meals, when they could be sourcing healthy, plant-based and low waste meals on their doorstep?
Food waste is only one aspect of how our global food system squanders resources and encroaches on delicate ecosystems, as well as contributing a major whack of GHG emissions. But halving food waste – at least – by 2030, in line with the global Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, is a goal that makes sense on all sorts of levels. One thing COP24 taught me is that it’s time for citizens to take matters into their own hands.
“We are now experiencing a man-made global catastrophe: climate change is the biggest threat of thousands of years” David Attenborough, COP24
Want to get involved?
There are lots of ways that you can get involved. Firstly, you can sign up to our emails to hear about the latest issues and campaigns in food waste and sustainable food industry.
You can make a difference today. Our campaign to address the problem of Big Meat has just launched and you can be a part of it. We’re calling it the “cow in the room” and you can find out more and pledge your support here.
What can you do next?
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