The Climate and Food Nexus

By Ruth Richardson, The Global Alliance for the Future of Food

With the recent publication of the IPBES Pandemics Report, which showcased how the same global environmental changes that drive biodiversity loss and climate change also drive pandemics, the case for systemic change has never been clearer. World leaders can no longer deny the deep links between industrialized agricultural land use, habitat loss, and risks to public health.  COVID-19 has reinforced understanding of the interdependence of ecological, animal, and human health by revealing what happens when we break down the natural barriers between animal and human populations.

Now, as momentum gathers towards key political processes in 2021, like the 47th session of the Committee on World Food Security, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), and the UN Food Systems Summit, we have an opportunity to catalyze bold transformative change in our food systems, with significant consequences for social, environmental, and economic justice and sustainability.

Transforming a system, especially one resistant to change, is daunting but it’s not impossible.

As a first step, as discussed in the Nexus panel at the F20 Climate Solutions Week this year, we have to start actively countering the pervasive narratives that dominate and shape how our food systems operate. Today, the “feed the world” or “productivist” narrative — that prioritizes yield over calories and creates the idea that there isn’t sufficient food for everyone to be well-fed — is fundamentally flawed and enables industrialized food systems to continue to operate beyond planetary boundaries. That food insecurity exists points not to a lack of food but to systemic failure in the way we grow, process, distribute, market, eat, and dispose of food with a disregard for equity and meeting basic human needs.

Resilient, equitable, and diverse food systems that coexist in harmony with the planet already exist. But, the transformative change involved in making these systems available to all must be accelerated. For those of us in philanthropy, especially those funders and donors focused on climate, we have a privilege and the responsibility to act now. In addition to championing a new and inspirational narrative that calls for human, animal, and ecological health to be put at the heart of our food systems, financial flows must be redirected away from harmful actors and practices and towards radical food systems transformation.

In the summer of this year, a report co-developed by Biovision, IPES-Food, and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), showed that philanthropic funders and governments, both in developing and developed countries, still favour ‘green revolution’ approaches, with the belief that industrial agriculture is the only way to produce sufficient food. The Money Flows report revealed that 63% of the flows tracked are focused on reinforcing and tweaking existing systems, in other words maintaining the status quo. This is not sufficient and this can’t continue.

Ultimately, we have enough evidence and the tools we need to make change happen. The global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has been a terrible wake-up call and we don’t need another one. It has revealed our deepest vulnerabilities, compounded existing inequalities, and highlighted the fragility and interconnectedness of human, animal, and ecosystem health.

We must urgently re-imagine and re-build more equitable, resilient, and sustainable food systems so that we: minimize the potential negative impacts like increasing greenhouse gas emissions to exacerbating rates of non-communicable diseases; and, at the same time, strengthen our food systems’ resilience to shocks, whether extreme weather events, climate change, migration, sea-level rise and, of course, another pandemic. The time is now.



Arian Okhovat, Communications F20 |

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