Based in Beijing, The Institute for Global Decarbonization Progress (iGDP) is an independent think tank monitoring and providing recommendations on climate action in China. Their consulting platform is working to support low-carbon infrastructure and practices in the biggest manufacturing nation in the world, according to data from the U.N. Statistics Division.
iGDP tackles climate actions across multiple sectors primarily at the subnational level. Program focus areas range from clean energy to green finance to methane reduction. In all areas, the group is working to ensure long-term carbon neutrality. The organization recognizes the links between the agri-food system and the climate crisis. Their Food and Agriculture program examines opportunities for cutting emissions, eliminating waste, and responsibly feeding people.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, China leads the world in terms of the production of cereals, cotton, fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs and fishery products.
iGDP recently released a working version of their large-scale food system analysis. “The Agri-Food System and Carbon Neutrality: An Analysis of Agriculture and Food-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions Mitigation Pathways in China” summarizes key findings from the group’s work tracking greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation actions across China’s food system.
The analysis—because it is large in scope—gave iGDP the opportunity to collaborate with other nongovernmental organizations, researchers, and policy analysts. The group also conducted field work in Jiangxi and Sichuan to expand team members’ understanding of agri-food practices within the Chinese provinces.
Meian Chen, Program Director and Senior Analyst at iGDP, and Min Hu, President and Co-Founder, note the extensive aspects of the agri-food system analysis. “We [built] the first China-rooted and China-tailored analytical model to localize this global topic to China’s context. We have conducted massive expert interviews to complete the analysis. It took us over two years to have initial findings,” Chen and Hu tell Food Tank.
The initial paper says, “The green and low-carbon transition of the agri-food system can make a substantial contribution to GHG reduction, sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, social equity, and public health.” But significant challenges exist to making this transition. China’s large population and agricultural sector lead one of the highest levels of consumption and production in the world.
Transitioning to the sustainable and low-carbon production methods will require cooperation and contributions from farmers, says iGDP. At the same time, many farmers will need support as they make changes.
Chen and Hu tell Food Tank that resources for farmers are currently limited. “Traditionally, given the vital position of the agriculture sector, China has established a system of the Agricultural Technology Promotion Service Stations covering all over the country at various local levels. These stations can provide capacity building and relevant low-carbon practices information for farmers,” they say. “However, these technical service stations are still not equipped with the most up-to-date knowledge to guide the farmers on sustainable practices. Therefore, both policy and financial support is needed to help farmers shift to low-carbon practices.”
On the consumer side, iGDP’s working paper notes that, relative to other developed nations, animal protein consumption per capita in China is low but it may increase. “Numerous studies have shown that reducing animal food consumption has large emissions reduction potential, a dynamic that deserves greater attention,” says the paper.
Chen and Hu tell Food Tank that promoting China’s dietary guidelines, which encourage a sustainable balance between animal and plant protein consumption, can help combat diet-related agri-food emissions. Mitigation activities should be developed based on these guidelines, Chen and Hu say.
iGDP has a team “working on community engagement and consumption behavior change to promote lifestyle decarbonization,” Chen and Hu tell Food Tank. The team is working to make consumers aware of changes they can make, like switching to efficient cooking and cooling appliances in their homes.
At the next U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP28), “we would like to share our research work on China’s agri-food system and carbon neutrality, which will include both emissions analysis and case studies, and to collect feedback from different experts in the COP,” Chen and Hu tell Food Tank. “Based on our research, we are also hoping to stimulate discussion on challenges and opportunities facing the sustainable transition of the agri-food system at both global and regional levels.”
The full version of “The Agri-Food System and Carbon Neutrality” will be available in the Fall ahead of COP28.
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Photo courtesy of Zetong Li, Unsplash