During the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP27), food systems leaders discussed opportunities to manage the risks and externalities from global food and agriculture systems. Speakers identified solutions including True Cost Accounting (TCA), subsidy reform, and strategic investments in the private sector.
One of the key underlying issues is that the world fails to appreciate the true value of food, argues Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director in the Climate and Environment Division at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. “I don’t think we value the food enough. We don’t value the soil enough. We don’t value the ecosystems in general enough.”
Rather, the world has “created a value-destroying food system,” says Roy Steiner, Vice President of the Food Initiative at The Rockefeller Foundation. According to Steiner, the United States creates roughly US$1 trillion worth of economic value from food and agriculture systems, but conservative efforts suggest that it also creates roughly US$2 trillion in costs. He adds that similar trends can be found around the world, and asks, “Who wants to be part of a value-destroying food system?”
But panelists believe that there are actionable solutions that can be implemented to move away from the current systems.
Jeremy Coller, Chairman of Coller Capital and Helena Wright, Policy Director at the FAIRR Initiative, for example, want to see the restructuring of subsidies, which Coller calls “anachronistic” and no longer suited to today’s food and agriculture systems.
Wright says that today’s subsidies are instead “incentivizing unsustainable consumption and production.” She continues, “We need harmful subsidies to be repurposed in line with climate and with nature.”
Jeroom Remmers, Director of the TAPP Coalition proposes another strategy: tax reform to incentivize the purchase of produce that is grown sustainably. The TAPP Coalition is also analyzing the potential of taxes on meat and dairy to help curb the greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal agriculture.
Better procurement practices can also prove beneficial without necessarily raising prices for consumers, Steiner says. He references The Rockefeller Foundation’s recent work with India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), which supplies subsidized food grain to more than 800 million people in the country. Using True Cost Accounting, the Foundation was able to identify hidden costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and more. But, Steiner says, introducing changes to the way PDS procures food, such as altering the diversity of crops they buy, “can create literally billions dollars in value.”
Speakers including Gunhild Stordalen, also called on advocates to apply pressure to decision makers attending the Climate Change Conference and ensure that food and agriculture systems are a part of negotiations. “Let’s all be very vocal about getting food systems into the outcome documents of this COP,” she says.
But policymakers cannot effect these changes on their own, says Ertharin Cousin, Founder and CEO of Food Systems for the Future. Cousin wants to see finances leveraged to build businesses that can be scaled in order to increase access to healthy foods. “Too often we look at the policies that are necessary, the government interventions that are required without looking at the investments that are required from the private sector.”
Watch the full conversation at COP27 below:
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