Tackling climate change through the way we eat
This article is part of our 'Ideas to save the planet' series - a series of articles each focusing on a different innovative solution to help tackle climate change. We are grateful to our expert alumni for their insights, and hope to inspire further action through sharing their ideas.
Rana Fakhoury is a Chevening Alum from Lebanon who graduated from the University of St. Andrews in 2008. In 2010 she joined the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). At UNIDO, Rana works in the sustainable food systems division within the agribusiness department. Her focus is on designing systems for the future that nourish all people, while protecting and restoring the environment and ensuring an inclusive and equitable living.
Food and the environment
Food systems impact the environment. They are responsible for approximately 80% of deforestation and up to 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture uses 34% of all land on the planet, withdraws 70% of freshwater and is responsible for 68% of total biodiversity loss. Yet, it is possible to reduce impacts by changing how we produce food. New and emerging approaches, when adopted alongside the use of regenerative and inclusive practices, give the potential to transition to food production systems that deliver a larger diversity of plants and animals to a growing population, without degrading the functional integrity of ecosystems.
Bad for the planet, bad for us
On the production side, food systems are the main cause of biodiversity loss and the current mass extinction of species. At the same time, a third of the food we produce is being wasted or lost. On the consumption side, bad diets increasingly contribute to mortality, and ironically, both hunger and obesity are growing. Due to their climate and environmental impacts and their shortcomings in providing healthy and safe nutrition for all, today’s food systems are unsustainable. The pervasive issue is that of environmental degradation, with damage to ecosystem services, some of which can be attributed to aspects of food production, harvesting, processing, transportation and consumption.
How can we eat more sustainably?
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. The most important thing that needs to happen is a mindset shift at a high level globally. We need to stop seeing the environmental sustainability of our food as a competing priority with economic and social sustainability. The three can, must and do go hand in hand.
Addressing the environmental, social and economic sustainability of our food systems together is an approach that’s gaining traction and importance. Nonetheless, given the interrelations within the food system and with other systems, competing priorities and outcomes still feel like the norm.
Responsible investment and transformative action to drive sustainable development are now needed globally. This should include scaling up innovative and proven practices that are already out there. If this is done well, we can build the resilience of our food systems, reducing their collective impact on the climate, while at the same time reducing the impact which climate has on food production.
Better for our planet better for us
Sustainable food systems are not out of reach, and there is cause for optimism. There are plenty of extremely capable people worldwide who are working hard to develop food systems that are better for our planet, and better for us.
The key is in the power of the collective. We must now collaborate on a global scale to create a sustainable and viable transformation. The time for individual businesses, governments and development actors to move independently is long gone.