Climate and nutrition communities unite

The fourth UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA-4, March 2019, Nairobi) was the first time that the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment tabled the topic of food systems and nutrition. Events were organized to raise awareness on the 2019 theme - Innovative Solutions to Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production -andUNSCN teamed up with UN Environment to host the Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet. “Global diets are the tie that binds environmental sustainability and human health” explained Stineke Oenema in her opening remarks. “They can improve public health and nutritional outcomes while reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.

Ms Oenema also called for a radical transformation of the global food system toward healthier diets, based on diverse production systems and characterised by more plant-based dietary patterns. Actions to shift dietary choices, including taxes and subsidies to make healthier and sustainable choices more affordable, were put forward as policies that governments could implement, examples of which are spelled out in the UNSCN publication Sustainable Diets for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet (2017). Other actionable entry points include the development of Food Based Dietary Guidelines that are rooted in science and include sustainability criteria. Such guidelines inform consumers about healthy diets and the need for sustainable production and consumption patterns. They would also sensitize policy makers about healthy diets and the need to design agricultural and investment policies in line with the needs for healthy and sustainable diets.Data regarding food consumption patterns could serve as baseline information to support the transition, a task in which the private sector could help. Considering that the Committee on World Food Security’s Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition is expected to be adopted in October 2020, a Resolution on the theme could be a welcomed achievement for UNEA-5 in early 2021, providing a perfect example of policy coherence.

Several of the decisions taken at UNEA-4 are directly related to agriculture, food systems and nutrition. For example, the resolution on biodiversity and land degradation refers to the importance of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity for food security and nutrition. Furthermore, the Ministerial Declaration of the assembly calls for the promotion of sustainable food systems, and the resolution of curbing food loss and waste requests UNEP to assist countries in their related efforts, in collaboration with FAO and in the framework of the One Planet (10YFP) Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Programme.

UNSCN continued to build on the synergies of the climate and nutrition agendas during an event at the Climate and SDGs Synergy Conference (April 2019, Denmark). This conference is part of a series of preparatory meetings for the SDGs under review and serves to inform the deliberations of the High Level Political Forum in July 2019, as well as the Climate Summit in September 2019. Read here the Recommendations on food system, nutrition and climate change prepared by UNSCN as a follow up of the conference. 

The theme also reverberated during the World Bank Spring Meeting (April 2019, USA) as Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank CEO and Interim President until 8 April 2019 reaffirmed that transforming food systems is paramount for the World Bank’s goal to end poverty, ensure food and nutrition security, raise incomes, especially smallholder farmer, improve health and nutrition outcomes, and restore the planet. Financial instruments and services will be key to unlock the potential change, as can support the use of responsible agriculture methods.

During the SDG and Climate Summits (September 2019, USA) and again, during the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (December 2019, Chile), the same message needs to be repeated for country leaders to make synergistic commitments to human health and the health of the planet.

Photo credit : FAO@Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

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