Serving up a Food-Systems Revolution in Glasgow

Moving away from fossil fuels will not be enough if industrial agriculture and deforestation are allowed to continue driving global warming and biodiversity loss. Luckily, the UN Climate Conference COP26 shows a food-systems revolution is finally gaining momentum. An opinion piece by Dr. Gerrit Hansen, program director in the field of climate change at the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Dr. Gerrit Hansen | November 2021
Frau an einem Marktstand mit Früchten
Felix Antonio, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A broad coalition has taken up the challenge of integrating food systems into the climate debate. November 6th is “Nature Day” at COP26 and a network of experts and activists will launch the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration at Glasgow City Hall. As part of the formal COP26 program, the conference’s so-called High Level Champions, who connect governments with other stakeholders, will host a debate to highlight priorities – like altering consumption patterns – identified by the UN’s first-ever Food Systems Summit (FSS) in September.

This is good news for the planet. Food production, distribution, consumption and disposal now account for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Land-based ecosystems used to take up about a third of human-made carbon-dioxide emissions, slowing the speed of global warming. But despite ambitious pledges to protect the world’s forests, we are still losing these natural assets at alarming speed – and industrial agriculture is the main culprit. The FSS and ever more civil-society initiatives are at last pushing for food systems reform.

Dr. Gerrit Hansen
Michael Fuchs

About the author

Dr. Gerrit Hansen is program director in the field of climate change at the Robert Bosch Stiftung. The Foundation advocates a just transition and a fundamental paradigm shift in the realm of land use, promoting solutions that protect the climate, conserve ecosystems, enable participation, and dismantle inequalities.

Fostering regenerative agriculture that builds soil carbon and fertility is one priority, another is adjusting what we eat, as suggested by the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet. What we eat and how we produce it will be crucial for protecting nature’s capacity to support human life. Industrial agriculture was designed to feed a growing population, but this benefit is increasingly outweighed by the resulting ecosystem destruction, soil degradation, seed and breed monopolization and agrobiodiversity loss, water pollution and emissions. At the same time, farmers worldwide struggle to make a living, and obesity and malnutrition have joined under-nourishment as leading causes of disease.

Food security is a central goal of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, so agriculture and land use have often led to heated debates at COP meetings. Developing countries worry the issue threatens their sovereignty, shifts more burden their way and distracts from the more urgent need to exit fossil fuels. Big agricultural producers like the EU, Australia and the US are also keen to protect their interests.

But since 2017, there has at least been a dedicated format for discussing agriculture, including both mitigation and adaptation. COP26 will decide whether the so-called Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) will continue and in what form. But no matter what the KJWA will deliver, consensus is growing that technological improvements won’t do the trick – what is needed is a revolution in food systems that benefits people and planet.