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Transforming global food systems under climate change: Achieving zero emissions

If we are to limit global temperatures to not more than 2°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, then the agriculture and food sector will have to contribute to significant emissions reductions, even though climate change is only one challenge among many for the food system, including global food insecurity, poor nutrition and health outcomes, over-use of water, etc.

If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to poverty, climate change and food and nutrition security, the agricultural development community will have to work collectively with the world’s 700 million small-scale farmers by 2030 to transform the way food is produced, processed and consumed. Never before have we faced such ambitious goals.

Achieving the SDGs will not be easy, as they will have to be met in the context of climate change impacts and other challenges.

Challenges include:

  • Food and nutrition security
  • Increasing resource constraints and trade-offs
  • Massive urbanization
  • An aging farming population
  • A need to rapidly reduce emissions from food systems
  • Dietary shifts

The pace of changes required has never been seen before, and necessitates radical changes as opposed to incremental adjustments—it calls for a transformation.

Transforming food systems means a significant redistribution of the primary factors and results of production within a period of 10 years*. This includes significant changes to, for instance, the structure of landholdings, technologies and their use, capabilities of women and men, and the distribution and dynamics of the population and labor force.

Effectively designed and implemented, such changes can generate multiple benefits, translating into transformed and thriving rural livelihoods and communities.

Benefits can include:

  • Increased resilience
  • Reduced emissions
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved food and nutrition security
  • Reduced poverty
  • Improved health and water quality
  • Empowerment of women and youth

Transforming Food Systems Under a Changing Climate is an initiative that brings together leaders in science, business, farming, policy and grassroots organizations to identify pathways for transformation. This initiative aims to identify the high priority actions that we must collectively take now. Building on extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, a comprehensive literature review, and commissioned background papers, we propose 11 transformative actions across 4 action areas: reroute, de-risk, reduce, and realign.

The initiative focuses on six elements of a transformation (listed below)   

1. Fostering enabling policies and institutions

This element recognizes the central and complementary role that enabling policies and institutions play to support transformation. The focus will include innovative approaches to policy design and implementation, land governance and reforms, and trade rules, among others.

2. Empowering farmer and consumer organizations, women and youth

Collective actions by farmers and consumers are key to driving transformational change in food systems. At the same time, actions are needed to create conducive enabling environments that encourage producers, business owners, researchers, investors and policymakers to innovate in ways that promote gender equality and opportunities for youth. This element focuses on lesson learning from actions that build capacity and empower farmers, consumers, women and youth and their networks as part of the efforts to drive demand-driven solutions.

3. Digitally enabled climate-informed services

Agriculture is behind many sectors in the application of information and communication tools. This element focuses on addressing this gap, and generating lessons for application of digital tools, disruptive technologies and big data, in extension, early response systems and adaptive safety nets.

4. Climate-resilient and low-emission practices and technologies

Technologies and practices which enhance resilience and enable farmers to take low emissions development pathways are crucial, and the focus of this element is to identify emerging innovations and lessons from their application, including innovative ideas for scaling up technologies and practices.

5. Innovative finance to leverage public and private sector investments

This element focuses on mobilizing the finance needed to drive a food systems transformation, identifying financial mechanisms to de-risk private capital (for example, blended finance), including incentives for technology uptake.

6. Reshaping supply chains, food retail, marketing and procurement

This element takes cognizance of the need for system-wide actions to drive transformation, and focuses on reshaping supply chains from farm to fork, including new models of business-to-business coordination, new diets and consumer choices and efforts to manage food loss and waste.

 Further reading:

Related publications ( included in UNCCD Library catalogue)

food systems