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Panel: ‘Climate-Friendly Diets’ Crucial to Sustainable Future

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Adopting “climate-friendly diets” is essential to creating a sustainable future and mitigating the negative impacts of climate change.

This was the focal point of a panel discussion put together by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on June 18.

In opening remarks, Ovais Sarmad, UNFCCC’s deputy executive secretary, emphasized that “radical and urgent changes” need to be made in the next 10 years to keep temperatures under the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold, explaining that modifying human diet and food consumption is a critical part of creating this sustainable future.

“The way we eat is threatening the planet, and, at the same time, the food sector is also a strong lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability,” he said. “The environment that we enjoy [and] benefit [from] today … we have borrowed it from our future generations. So, we have a huge moral, ethical, social responsibility to protect it and then pass it on to the future generations.”

Marc Buckley – a social entrepreneur, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) advocate and member of the World Economic Forum’s expert network – moderated the panel, emphasizing in his introduction that the SDGs are “intrinsically tied to food – to agriculture, food and beverages.”

Brent Loken, director of Science Translation at Norway-based EAT Foundation, summarized key findings from an EAT-Lancet Commission report published in January, which researched diets that are both healthy for individuals and sustainable for the planet.

“Food and land use is 24% of the global greenhouse gas emissions,” he noted, in explaining why food and agriculture cannot be overlooked in plans to meet the Paris Agreement. “Greenhouse gas emissions – if we don’t do anything by 2050 – will go … to 96% above what the earth can actually tolerate. Right now, from greenhouse gas emissions from food, we’re sitting at about the range that we can handle. We’ll be almost double that by 2050.”

The next four panelists – Rebekah Moses of Impossible Foods, Ingo Puhl of Whapow, Sarah Nischalke of ZEF and Yaw Sasu-Bakye of IKEA – shared how their companies and organizations are working to create plant-based and climate-friendly foods to help reduce greenhouse gases by enabling food producers to adopt climate-friendly processes and consumers to adopt climate-friendly diets.

Finally, Kim Arazi of Innosensi explained one of her organization’s initiatives: experiential eating opportunities to help consumers move from awareness of the impact of human food consumption on climate change to moving toward more climate-friendly diets.

“If you care about what you are eating because you want to feel good, then you’re going to pick the right things to eat,” Arazi said, “which is going to go down the chain and you’re going to demand the kinds of food that is good for you and good for the planet.”

The panel concluded with remarks from Martin Frick, UNFCCC’s senior director for policy and program coordination, who said it is “insanity” that in our current food system a third of the food produced ends up in consumers’ trash bins.

“Think big, and thinking big means not only ‘climate neutral,’ you can actually be ‘climate positive,’ and we need to become climate positive as much as we can,” Frick said in his closing statement. “And ultimately, the whole discussion around sustainability that we started [in] 1972 Stockholm … is actually now shifting, and must shift, to a discussion of restoration and of healing what we have destroyed.”

The full panel discussion is available to view here.