Experts gathered at the Climate Change Conference in Bonn (to 27 June) to discuss the need to transform the way we produce and consume food. More sustainable practices in the food industry and more climate-friendly dietary habits are essential to achieve the objectives of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Around a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by agriculture and land use, including forestry, fisheries and livestock production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. At the same time, the effects of climate change are threatening global food security, as climate change is making it more difficult to grow adequate food for rapidly growing populations.
“The food sector is a strong lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability”, said Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, at the event, organized in collaboration with the food industry experts. “It’s not about targeting any particular areas of the society, consumption and markets, it’s about innovation, raising awareness and taking action”, he said.
Science-based targets for healthy, sustainable diets
Keeping the food systems within planetary boundaries can be achieved through the adoption of science-based targets to measure and reduce emissions from the food sector, experts stressed.
“The only way to achieve the goals of Paris is to be able to track and monitor emissions. The tricky thing for food is that we don’t have that kind of monitoring process in place,” said Dr. Brent Loken, director of Science Translation at Norway-based EAT Foundation, who highlighted the need to integrate food into the solutions to climate change.
In January, a group of 37 leading scientists convened by EAT published the EAT-Lancet Commission Report, the first attempt to set universal scientific targets on what defines a healthy and sustainable diet. The report showed that staying within the ‘safe operating space’ for food systems requires a combination of substantial shifts in dietary patterns, dramatic reductions in food losses and waste, and major improvements in food production practices.
Science-based targets are increasingly gaining traction across the world, notably in the business sector. To date, 566 companies have committed to taking science-based climate action. One of them is the Swedish company IKEA, who pledged to increase the amount of plant-based food sold in its stores from the current 14% to 20% by 2022. IKEA also aims to halve food waste in its stores by August 2020.
“We have targets to reduce emissions in IKEA, but we feel this is not enough: we need to become climate positive by reducing more greenhouse gas emissions than the IKEA value chain emits”, said Yaw Sasu-Boakye, Climate Lead for Food & Agriculture at IKEA Food Services.
Climate-friendly burger and shake
The panel discussion at the event was followed by a tasting experience to showcase innovative food products which included a climate-friendly version of the classic “burger and shake” menu. Plant-based and nature-friendly food items were provided by Impossible Foods, which is a US-based food-tech company.
“We are putting new tools into the hands of the consumer and giving them options for keeping food within planetary boundaries”, said Rebekah Moses, Senior Manager of Impact Strategy at Impossible Foods.
The Thai/German start-up Whapow served shakes made out of microalgae spirulina and oat-milk. “Microalgae is a climate positive food — with every shake that you drink you are reducing emissions”, said founder Ingo Puhl, referring to the fact that microalgae can be produced in bioreactors, thereby avoiding deforestation, water pollution and soil contamination by fertilization, while also absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. Micro-algae are also fit for animal consumption, which could substantially reduce the environmental footprint of livestock.
Dr. Sarah Nischalke, Senior Researcher at the Center for Development Research of the University of Bonn, highlighted the benefits of the consumption of harmless and nutritious insects as a way to enhance food security and lower emissions. “Insects are very efficient in transforming their food into edible tissues. They usually need half of what chicken need, a fourth of what pigs need and a tenth of what cows need. They also need very little space, produce little pollution and drink very little water”.
Kim Arazi, founder of innovation consultancy Innosensi, stressed the importance of finding easy ways for consumers to experience such innovative products to promote behavioural change.
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