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Food: the ‘elephant in the room’ at COP23?

Bringing food into the climate debate is a double win for human and planetary health. Improved transparency about food systems challenges and solutions were key outcomes of Nordic Food Day at COP23 on 9 November 2017. The Nordic Pavilion was transformed into a pop-up think tank, bringing leaders from organisations such as World Bank, WWF, Greenpeace, FAO and EAT Foundation together to discuss how to put food policy on the climate agenda.

18.12.2017
Photographer
Simon Hecht

Stepping up to the plate

Food is a wide-reaching topic. This was particularity apparent considering the wide range of participants at Nordic Food Day, including youth, policy officers, scientists, NGOs, civil society organizations and intergovernmental organizations. While food is ubiquitous, it is often sidelined because it does not have a clear home, leaving multi- dimensional food-related issues to be split up and placed into silos.

Policy creates an enabling environment, but the push factors must come from everyone, like consumers, farmers and companies

According to Denise Loga, Co-founder and Managing Director of the Sustainable Food Academy, concerted efforts and increased political commitment are important ingredients in the recipe for climate action. Placing food on the COP menu is an obvious place to start: “Policy creates an enabling environment, but the push factors must come from everyone, like consumers, farmers and companies.”

Despite the inclusion of food production into various negotiation tracks at COP, a paradigm shift is still crucial. By staging a pop-up think tank at the Nordic Pavilion, the Nordic Food Policy Lab welcomed dreamers, visionaries and enablers to the table and provided a tasting menu of initiatives and scientific knowledge supporting sustainable food systems. The thematic day, Nordic Food Day, was the kick-off of the Nordic Food Policy Lab, a flagship project under the Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges initiative by the five Nordic Prime Ministers.

Democratisation of sustainable food

The Nordic experience over the past ten years shows that policies based on collaborative approaches can catalyze the transformation of food systems. This includes several close-to-the-consumer-policies on changing diets, food culture and gastronomy. These approaches are far from textbook examples of exceptionalism; other countries far from the Nordic region are also implementing similar strategies.

Let us not underestimate the readiness of the public. Consumers are often more ready than politicians on this matter

Gycs Gordon of the Trade Council of Peru highlights the spillover effects of addressing climate change through food systems: “Food is bringing us together and Peruvian gastronomy is booming right now. It is very important among young people too since it gives them some new opportunities.” By placing particular focus on food production and consumption, the Peruvian government is simultaneously addressing pressing issues such as employment, climate, biodiversity, cultural identity and health.

These solutions are not only accessible to a lucky few; in fact, they are far-reaching within the Peruvian society. Just walk into any supermarket and you will find 20 different varieties of potatoes, representing the importance of the tuberous crop to culture and biodiversity.

Similar trends can be found in the Nordics, where the demand for local, organic and sustainable foods is growing amongst shoppers. “Let us not underestimate the readiness of the public. Consumers are often more ready than politicians on this matter,” notes Dagfinn Høybråten, General Secretary of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

We’re in this together

While each country faces its own food system-related challenges, there is one major lesson from the Nordic food policy experience that can benefit everyone: collaboration.

Nordic Food Day showed leadership in linking climate and food systems and providing a platform to highlight the importance of food, agriculture and livestock in the climate scenarios

Dr. Reyes Tirado, a scientist at Greenpeace Research Lab, provides us with the following opportunistic scenario: “Imagine that we have a bus with 20 seats to take us home safely. On the bus, science tells us that about 12 to 15 of the seats would be occupied by the food system in 2050. That means that we only have five seats for all of the other sectors like energy, transport, etc. This is very depressing, but if we change the global food system, we will free up 8 to 10 seats.”

Freeing up the extra seats on the climate bus requires collaborative thinking and doing ㄧ actions that will bring us closer limiting global warming to under 1.5°C. “Nordic Food Day showed leadership in linking climate and food systems and providing a platform to highlight the importance of food, agriculture and livestock in the climate scenarios,” concludes Dr. Tirado.

In the driver’s seat

Solutions for human and planetary health must also be backed by long-term commitments, strong leadership and political will. “The [Nordic] region has already shown interest and willingness to take the lead in exporting Nordic solutions to address global challenges related to ensuring healthy, sustainable food for all,” says Dr. Gunhild Stordalen, President and Founder of the EAT Foundation. “I hope that this will be backed by further commitments and concrete, measurable action globally, but equally important, in our own countries.”

I think that the Nordic region has something, in particular, to offer when it comes to policy, ideas and innovation

For BBC Food Programme Producer and Journalist, Dan Saladino, ideas are worth sharing: “I’ve seen ideas ranging from aquaculture through to school food – innovations and ideas are different to the ones that I have encountered elsewhere, which is why I think that the Nordic region has something, in particular, to offer when it comes to policy, ideas and innovation.”

Including the food system into the international climate debate presents an opportunity in itself. We must dare to face the challenges and look for solutions beyond the status quo. Nordic Food Day affirmed that it is possible to bring diverse stakeholders together to explore concrete solutions and start new conversations on food and climate. Moving from talk to political ambition ㄧand from business as usual to radical shifts in production and consumption habits ㄧis well overdue. It’s time to seize the opportunity.

Contacts

Mads Frederik Fischer-Møller
Phone +45 29 69 29 43
Email madmol@norden.org

Elisabet Skylare
Phone +45 2171 7127
Email elisky@norden.org

Co-writer: Dr. Afton Halloran, Sustainable Food Systems Consultant