A just transition approach to food systems transformation

Anna Triponel

January 26, 2024
Our key takeaway: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released its 1.5 °C roadmap for the food sector, which puts zero hunger (Sustainable Development Goal 2) and climate action at the centre of this journey. Why is this roadmap urgently needed? The current food system is failing us as high levels of people are facing hunger and the environment and climate is suffering from intensive agricultural production. In 2022, 738.9 million faced hunger and 3.1 billion lacked access to healthy diets despite the fact that food systems contributed to at least 30% to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. What can companies and other stakeholders do? The report states that we all have a role to play in transforming the food system through accelerating climate actions that achieves GHG emissions reduction and improved food security and nutrition for people - a just transition. The report issues a call to action: “Providing healthy food for all, today and tomorrow, is crucial; as is aligning agrifood systems transformation with climate actions.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released Achieving SDG 2 without breaching the 1.5 °C threshold: A global roadmap (January 2024):

  • “A time of urgencies”: The report emphasises the inextricable link between climate change, environmental degradation, and the global food systems. Food systems contribute to 30 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and have failed to reduce global hunger and food insecurity: "In 2022, 738.9 million people faced hunger, 2.4 billion in 2022 were moderately or severely food insecure, and over 3.1 billion lacked access to healthy diets.” The report recognises the perceived trade-off between producing food to address immediate needs, and endangering future food security and nutrition. The report states that food can be produced to meet immediate needs, while increasing future climate resilience: “Providing healthy food for all, today and tomorrow, is crucial; as is aligning agrifood systems transformation with climate actions.”
  • A just transition in global food systems is necessary: The report highlights that measures to tackle climate change in the agriculture sector can be done in a way that increases the number of people globally who are food secure and have access to healthy diets. The report bases this on the principle of just transition: “The principle of “Just Transition”, integral to the Paris Agreement, aims for fair, inclusive decarbonization that leaves no one behind, linking it to sustainable agrifood systems and SDG 2 is a natural extension.” To achieve a just transition in the agriculture sector, efficiency improvements and global rebalancing must be at the forefront of climate actions. For instance, actions aimed at “reducing food loss and waste, improving productivity, especially in the livestock sector, methane reduction technologies, and adopting practices for soil and land use management” will have positive human rights, climate and environmental impacts.
  • What can companies do?: The FAO recommends that stakeholders take a rights-based approach to climate action, in particular: 1) “Protect fishers and fish workers with social protection and inclusive access.” This includes increasing the “capacity of and access to social protection, decent working conditions, and safety at sea for fishers and fish workers”; 2) “Improve practices that preserve soil health and enhance carbon in soil through regenerative agriculture and climate smart practices.” Higher levels of carbon in soil can lead to higher and more stable yields, as well as generate new income streams for farmers; 3) “[P]rovide farmers with access to training, information, and extension services to improve their knowledge and skills in modern crop cultivation techniques and sustainable farming practices”; 4) “Improve market access and value addition for farmers, especially for women.” This has benefits for farmer livelihoods: “Enabling farmers to receive fair prices for their crops allows them to invest in long-term productivity gains, provide better incentives for their efforts, and improve their livelihood”; 5) “Improve stakeholder engagement in an inclusive manner, especially listening to women’s and Indigenous Peoples’ voices” in nature restoration projects; 6) “Protect land rights, especially for women.” This means protecting land rights for vulnerable groups, such as women, youth and Indigenous Peoples, to address inequalities in land access and ownership; 7) “Shift energy use by food producers, in particular small-scale producers, towards renewable energy”; 8) “Protect vulnerable groups, especially women, impacted by climate change through well designed social safety net programmes.” More specifically, these “programmes should tackle the underlying vulnerability to climate shocks of these populations and strengthen their resilience capacities (human capital, adaptation efforts and activities, etc.) as well as triggering anticipatory actions, and ex post payments; and 9) “Protect low-income and vulnerable groups from the side effects of mitigation or nutrition policies through adequate cash transfers and job training in case of reduction of their economic activities due to mitigation measures originating from agrifood systems.”

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