IPCC climate change report: What about sustainable food systems?

IPCC climate change report: What about sustainable food systems?
Credit: Unsplash/Ella Larsson

The European Commission welcomed on Tuesday the new climate change report by the IPPC highlighting the urgency of more ambitious climate action.

As previously reported, the world’s leading group of climate scientists delivered this week its most dire warning yet: the planet is nearing catastrophic levels of global warming and immediate, radical action is required. Governments around the world have seven years to half greenhouse gas emissions to avoid irreversible change.

The final report in the current assessment cycle, called the synthesis report summarizes the work the panel has done in the last eight years and outlines how the world could limit global temperature rise to 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels.

The Commission calls on all countries to step up their ambitions and live up to their commitments under the Paris Agreement. The IPCC Report highlighted that the scale of the changes in the climate system caused by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is unprecedented in the history of humanity with grave implications for people and the planet.

Building climate resilience

The Commission also reconfirmed its intention to stay at the forefront of the fight against climate change by progressing with its efforts to make the EU climate-neutral and climate resilient, while accelerating the clean energy transition.

It says that with the Fit for 55 package, the EU is acting decisively to cut net emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and pave the way to reach climate neutrality by 2050. In parallel, it has stepped up its efforts to build climate resilience by implementing the EU Climate change Adaptation Strategy.

“Climate action needs to go hand in hand with other policies, and hence other initiatives under the European Green Deal such as the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, and the Zero Pollution and Circular Economy Action Plans are all crucial elements of the transition to a sustainable, climate resilient, nature-positive and equitable society.”

Sustainable food systems

Against the backdrop of the IPPC report, a coalition of EU-wide organisations is calling for better ‘food environments’ in the EU and concrete measures to make healthy, more plant-based diets with ‘less and better’ animal products the easy choice for European consumers.

The issue is briefly mentioned in the executive summary of the report. “Adaptation strategies which reduce food loss and waste or support balanced, sustainable healthy diets contribute to nutrition, health, biodiversity and other environmental benefits.”

Furthermore, demand-side measures and sustainable agricultural intensification can reduce ecosystem conversion, and methane and nitrous oxide emissions, and free up land for reforestation and ecosystem restoration.

From a climate change view, diets high in plant protein and low in meat and dairy are associated with lower GHG emissions with high confidence, according to the main report.

Three public health, animal and consumer advocates are now joining forces as the European Commission is due to propose a landmark law on sustainable food systems in September. The law is expected to recognize the role and influence of ‘food environments’ in shaping consumer food choices.

Food is among the sectors where demand-side changes can be most impactful, according to Eurogroup for Animals, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) and the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).  Yet currently, food environments largely push consumers towards unhealthy and unsustainable foods which are the most available, advertised, and often the cheapest options too.

“European citizens care deeply about animal welfare and have made strong calls for animal welfare to be improved,” commented Reineke Hameleers, Eurogroup for Animals Chief Executive Officer. “Products from higher welfare systems in combination with more plant-based food on European plates are also good for the planet and health.”

Asked by The Brussels Times for a comment, a Commission spokesperson replied that, “The European Green Deal in its entirety is our commitment and plan to reach climate neutrality, and it requires implementation across all the different policies.”

Healthy school meals

In the context of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the Commission is currently also reviewing the EU scheme that supports the distribution of fruit, vegetables, milk and certain milk products to schoolchildren, from nursery to secondary school.

But it risks to become an uphill struggle judging by a recommendation adopted by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee on Wednesday on EU funding for school meals.

“MEPs voted to downplay the drastic change we need to see with our diet,” commented Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU. “We can’t have our kids overeat on animal products in school, and then expect them to grow up with healthy eating habits and live within the planetary boundaries, in a planet that is already burning.”

“If schools were to continue to fail with this education, school canteens should at least give students the choice of plant-based meals and milks. MEPs now failed to recognize even this need. We can only hope the rest of the Parliament will be more ambitious when they vote on the file later this year.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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