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Climate fight takes aim at food in first net-zero plan

Climate fight takes aim at food in first net-zero plan
A herd of cattle grazes next to burned down paddocks near Coolagolite, NSW, Australia, 4 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE/LUKAS COCH)

Reducing overconsumption of animal-based products in the rich world, curbing food waste and overuse of fertilisers and capturing carbon in soil. These are some of the United Nations’ new recommendations to bring the global agrifood industry in line with the Paris climate agreement.

For the first time, the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation has published a global food systems’ road map to 1.5°C, outlining 10 priority areas that it said demand mobilised climate finance without a delay. They include livestock, food waste and loss, soil and water, crops, healthy diets and fisheries, it said on its website on Sunday.

“The overarching objective over the next three decades is to transition from being a net-emitter to a carbon sink,” the FAO said. “This ambitious transformation hinges on altering production methods, adjusting consumption patterns, refining forestry management practices, and integrating innovative technologies such as carbon capture.”

Read More: What Is COP28 and Why Is It Important?

From farm to fork, food systems account for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time climate change is hurting food production, some 735 million people face hunger and more than 3 billion lack access to healthy diets. Although non-binding, the FAO’s plan is expected to inform policy and investment decisions and give a push to the food industry’s climate transition, which has lagged other sectors in commitments, funding and action. The COP28 summit, which has sought to draw attention to food this year, held a Food, Agriculture and Water Day on Sunday.

The Rome-based FAO, tasked with improving the agricultural sector and nutrition, is seeking to strike a balance between achieving the zero-hunger goal by 2030 while at the same time avoiding crossing the 1.5°C global warming threshold. 

“We’re using the ‘just transition’ concept, looking at increasing efficiencies,” Maximo Torero, the FAO’s chief economist, said in an interview. “We need to produce more, but we need to produce more with fewer resources. The second component is to try to see how we can rebalance the way we consume around the world.”

That’s especially evident in its guidance on livestock, which are an oversized contributor to agricultural emissions. While people in higher-income countries “can benefit” from reduced consumption of animal products to not only improve the health of the planet but their own well-being, lower-income countries could use improved access to the protein, it said.

While “healthy diets” by default will reduce methane, that won’t be enough and will require producing more efficiently, Torero said. The FAO has offered a range of proposals for increasing productivity of livestock production — from better feed to genetics.

Aditi Mukherji, director of the climate change impact platform at research consortium CGIAR, welcomed the roadmap’s emphasis on the equity of food distribution. 

“We cannot solve this problem without improving equity in the way food consumption happens,” she said. “That does not necessarily mean that we would need to produce more meat.” Overall, she added, climate change is “largely a story of inequity.”

Read More: Rich World Told to Eat Less Meat in Food’s First Climate Plan 

Still, the FAIR investor network said the current language of the text doesn’t go far enough towards alignment of nature and biodiversity goals, nor does it offer suitable ambition on deforestation. 

“Climate science is clear that we must urgently transition the food sector to a future where the job of putting food on our plates doesn’t cost the Earth,” Jeremy Coller, FAIRR’s founder said in a statement. “The summary report issued this weekend is just the start of this important conversation.” 

The road map is set to be released in three parts, with a goal to unveil the country-specific plans only at COP30 in 2025.

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  • sl0m0 za says:

    I hope we in SA do not fall for the pseudo-science CO2 fallacies spewed by the idiots at the UN and the elite party called COP28. So much BS…….

  • Scott Gordon says:

    Is China taking part in all this , single biggest polluter on the planet ?
    Still a developing nation with a space lab and loads of nuclear weopans !
    100 new coal mines planned for the next 5 years

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