The United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow was set to be a landmark on global climate policy. The international community gathered for two weeks in the Scottish city to take stock of the progress made on the Paris Agreement. The main objective was to step up countries’ commitments to tackle all main drivers of climate change to ensure we limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degree by the end of the century. However, one big piece of the climate puzzle was missing from the official agenda of the Conference: food systems.

Food systems: the elephant in the COP26 negotiation rooms

We all need to eat: food brings us together, and is inextricably linked to societal and cultural values worldwide. However, our food production and consumption patterns exert significant pressure on our natural resources (e.g. land, water) and are a major cause of climate change.

In fact, food production is responsible for one-third of all man-made greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions.

For instance, the agri-food and especially the livestock sectors are responsible for respectively 53% and 14% of global methane emissions. To reduce this climate footprint, we need to change what and how we produce and consume food. Scientific evidence suggests that a dietary shift to more climate-friendly foods (e.g. plant-based foods), as well as the uptake of more sustainable agricultural practices can be part of the solution.

Against this backdrop, the climate footprint of food systems was largely overlooked in political discussions at COP26. For example, key initiatives launched during the conference – such as the Global Methane Pledge – failed to single out the impact of the agri-food sector and to highlight dietary change as a powerful tool in reducing global GHG emissions.

Food on the menu of COP26 stakeholders’ discussions

Hague attended COP26 on behalf of the European Alliance for Plant-based Foods, which co-organised a side event in the EU Pavilion together with ProVeg International, Oatly and the Barilla Foundation. The side event highlighted different ways the climate footprint of food systems can be reduced.

The event was one of many organised by NGOs, businesses and civil society organisations addressing the importance of the inclusion of food systems in global and national strategies to tackle climate change.

Regardless of the approach taken by stakeholders to enable the agri-food transition – e.g. by promoting food innovation, supporting sustainable practices such as agroecology and regenerative agriculture or advocating for a dietary shift towards more plant-rich diets – there is wide agreement on the need to include food systems in global climate efforts to reach the 1,5C target of the Paris Agreements.

Towards a Food Day at COP27

Many stakeholders involved in the sustainable food value chain are calling on global leaders to include food systems as an integral part of next year’s COP27 in Egypt. This can be done by having a dedicated Food Day to ensure an in-depth discussion on policies needed to lower GHG emissions in food systems.

Will this missing puzzle piece be added to the global climate agenda in 2022? We call on the international community to do so.

EAPF ad for Food Day at COP2027

Do you want to know more about food systems? Please contact Silvia.

Silvia Alunni