Climate change and the urgency to transform food systems

Date 21 Jul, 2022

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In this new publication, part of the Science Magazine special section on climate change, Aniek Hebinck and colleagues review the diverse options for food systems to contribute to the mitigation of climate change. While innovations are plentiful, fragmentation and structural challenges have impeded transformation so far.

To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, food systems will rapidly need to change as they are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. While climate change also demands adaption of food systems to cope with the climate impacts on food systems: land and marine ecosystems are expected to transform and shift climate zones, putting pressure on food security and livelihoods.

Pathways to change

There are three key pathways to changing the system: 1) mitigation through changes in crop and livestock production, 2) managing land-use, and 3) reducing food-related emissions beyond the farm gate. The paper explores the mitigation options that exist to develop these pathways but concludes that a lack of joint vision means implementation remains fragmented and uncoordinated, risking trade-offs with other food system outcomes, such as livelihoods.

In addition, pathways of change are hampered by the lack of mitigation options that address structural challenges such as fragmented decision making, vested interests, power imbalances in climate policy and the broader food community, and a narrow interpretation of justice.

A critical food system perspective is needed to reflect on the pros and cons of mitigation options and how they might link to other processes and actors across the food system. To enable a just food transformation, reform of current structures that govern the food system and the influence of vested interests is urgently needed.

Monika Zurek, Aniek Hebinck, Odirilwe Selomane 

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