A new assessment of the G20, which includes among others the UK, the US, France and Italy, found room for improvement on food sustainability not only for their own sakes but also to set an example for the rest of the world as the UN prepares to host the first Food Systems Summit.
With the latest figures finding between 720 and 811 million people undernourished in 2020, and almost 120 million additional people going hungry because of the Covid-19 pandemic, addressing the failings in food systems is more urgent than ever.
Given that G20 countries represent 60 per cent of the global population while generating 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and 80 per cent of its economic output, these states have the resources and the responsibility to take action to address food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutrition challenges.
With around 930 million tonnes – more than 15 per cent – of food wasted every year, one crucial first step towards greater sustainability would be for governments to invest in ways to measure food loss and waste across all tiers of the food supply chain.
Although three-quarters of G20 members have national strategies and targets for reducing food loss and waste, none currently has a plan for accounting for those losses or monitoring the success of its reduction strategy.
Even Australia, which – together with Argentina, Canada and the US – has the most ambitious target to reduce food loss by 50 per cent by 2030, published its strategy without having a baseline measurement of existing losses.
Another way to accelerate the transition towards greater sustainability is to demonstrate and enshrine the rewards of healthy, sustainable choices throughout the food chain.
In this regard, the EU has set a strong example with its Biodiversity Strategy and Farm to Fork Strategy along with forthcoming legislation to reduce the bloc’s contribution to global deforestation through imports of products like soy and palm oil.
Early adopters aligning food choices with climate goals – both governments and businesses – have the chance to improve public health and environmental standards, as well as setting the agenda and responding to growing consumer demands for greater sustainability.
Finally, governments must commit to more education and enabling food environments that empower citizens to make food choices that are not only good for their own health but are also environmentally and socially sustainable.
The evidence, illustrated by the Double Pyramid, shows a strong correlation between foods that promote human health and wellbeing and those that have the lowest impact on climate, making it possible for consumers to make a positive impact on both their lives and their environments.
All G20 countries have national dietary guidelines but only four – the UK, Australia, France and Italy – also include sustainability as part of their guidance. Incorporating sustainability more explicitly in all national guidelines would empower consumers throughout the G20 to make more sustainable choices, as well as influencing the behaviour of a number of other actors including those directing school food programmes.
And if governments could find ways to encourage consumers to follow these guidelines, the result would be an estimated 15 per cent decline in premature deaths and a 13 per cent reduction in emissions.
Building more sustainable food systems is the key to achieving all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, from ending hunger and poverty to tackling climate change.
As countries prepare to converge for the first time around the UN Food Systems Summit, leadership from the G20 would drive forward the transformation that is in everyone’s interest.