5 key considerations for transforming food systems

Exactly 100 days before the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), FAO and UNDP, through the programme “Scaling up Climate Ambition on Land-use and Agriculture through NDCs and NAPs” (SCALA) organized a virtual session on “Accelerating the implementation of the Paris Agreement through climate-resilient food systems” at the Food Systems Pre-Summit held in Rome in July 2021. The session brought together members from academia, the private sector, and government representatives from Uganda and Mongolia to unpack the role food systems can play in fulfilling the goals of the Paris Agreement. The session produced five key takeaways for countries and support programmes:

The goals of the Paris Agreement cannot be achieved without transforming our food systems

There is increasing consensus that it will not be possible to contain global warming within 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels without transforming food systems and related sectors, since food systems account for more than one-third of global emissions and the largest contributions come from agriculture and land-use. The future climatic impacts of breaching the 1.5-degree target are outlined in the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group I (WGI) contribution to the first part of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), titled “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis”. Extreme temperatures, floods, droughts and changing rainfall patterns will all have severe impacts on the capacity of our agri-food system to deliver food security for all.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Rohini Kohli, Lead Technical Specialist for National Adaptation Plans, UNDP noted that most countries do recognize the potential transforming food systems can have in helping them fulfill their mitigation and adaptation goals – with nearly 96 percent of all countries’ first cycle of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) identifying agriculture and land-use as major priorities.

However, despite this recognition, it is also clear that more collective action is needed in order to sustainably and equitably produce, consume and think about food. Food systems are complex and affected by multiple interconnected drivers such as climate change, economic shocks, and most recently the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why it is necessary to use a food systems approach to better understand how different elements of the system interact and how they can be addressed in an integrated manner to accelerate both adaptation and mitigation action.

In order to galvanize these efforts, collaboration across sectors and stakeholder groups is necessary to strengthen participation, include diverse perspectives, minimize trade-offs and leverage synergies, emphasised  moderator Ms. Maryam Rezaei, Food Systems Advisor at FAO.

Transformative change in agri-food pathways requires policy coherence

Professor Charles Spillane, Director of the Ryan Institute at the National University of Ireland Galway presented some of the main findings from a joint study carried out by his research team and FAO. He discussed the need for increased efforts to assess the evidence base, trade-offs and co-benefits associated with different agri-food transformation pathways. He noted that a lack of consensus or conflicting narratives on how to reach agri-food system goals, coupled with disconnected initiatives and political inaction, can affect progress in global climate action. Policies to transform agri-food pathways therefore need to be coherent and leverage synergies with other sectors.

Overcoming challenges in coordination, data availability and finance are necessary for climate resilient food systems

Mongolia’s updated NDC includes a target to reduce total greenhouse gases by 22.7 percent by 2030 and recognizes the role that agriculture and livestock systems can play in achieving this goal. Mr. Vinod Ahuja, FAO Representative, Mongolia highlighted that food systems are complex, and coordination across various government agencies can be challenging. To overcome this barrier, stronger cross-sectoral coordination and communication is required. Data quality and availability also needs to be improved, complemented by building capacity for data analysis. Gaps in climate finance also continue to persist, with most climate action currently supported by international funding. In recent years, increased efforts have been made to explore opportunities for blended finance, innovative financial instruments and to better attract the private sector to mobilize additional resources.

Partnerships with the private sector can lead to compounding benefits for climate action

Joining from Cargill, an agribusiness company that buys and sells agriculture commodities and acts as a link between farmers and consumers, Mr. Greg Downing, Sustainability Director on Climate highlighted how the private sector can engage in climate action through strong partnerships. Cargill’s approach is farmer-focused, and the company looks at ‘stack benefits’ for different types of interventions in mitigation, adaptation, biodiversity, and water, which also help diversify farmers’ livelihoods and incomes. Partnerships are a key entry point for achieving these stack benefits and services, sustainable interventions, and knowledge that can benefit the farmer can be provided through the support of multiple partners.

Sector-specific adaptation and mitigation targets in NDCs can be achieved through food system transformation

Uganda has identified eight priority sectors for mitigation and adaptation in its NDC, including agriculture (crop, fisheries, and aquaculture), forestry, infrastructure, water, energy, and health. Mr. John Chrysostom Birantana, Senior Principal Policy Analyst at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Uganda emphasized that sustainable food systems require an expansion of extension services that can help farmers and other food system actors increase adaptive capacity and resilience, enhance productivity and income and simultaneously, minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Supporting transformative change by supporting food system actors would thus help achieve adaptation and mitigation targets or potentially harness co-benefits.

Similarly, in Mongolia’s NDC, agriculture and livestock are identified as priority sectors for achieving the country’s climate goals. The government of Mongolia is strengthening ‘green value chains’ to increase sustainability in agriculture and improve food security. To green the value chain from producer to consumer, efforts to reduce livestock herd sizes are being undertaken, which will have co-benefits in reducing emissions, enhancing productivity, and improving animal health.

Agriculture and food systems have always been important priorities for both UNDP and FAO, and they have supported initiatives in these sectors through global and country-level activities, added Ms. Rohini Kohli in her closing remarks. This includes the FAO-UNDP SCALA programme, funded by Germany’s International Climate Initiative (IKI), which supports countries to enhance climate action in land-use and agriculture by implementing climate solutions that have the potential to trigger transformative change.

Building on the discussions that took place during the Food Systems Pre-Summit in July, countries  are now preparing for participation in the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021, and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021. Signatories to the Paris Agreement are required to submit their second round of updated NDCs by November, with increased climate ambition for the agriculture sector. FAO and UNDP will continue to provide support to countries to participate in these global processes and implement climate action in their agriculture and food systems. An upcoming FAO analysis of updated NDCs will also contribute to the global evidence base on ways to transform food systems to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Last Updated: 26 Aug 2021