Future proofing food for people and planet at the second UN Food Systems Summit

By Gonzalo Muñoz, High-Level Champion for COP25 | July 26, 2023

Farmers and fisherfolk, cities, businesses, financial institutions, and civil society are taking action to transform our food systems. The UN Food Systems Summit+2 (UNFSS+2) in Rome is set to measure and accelerate progress, marking a pivotal moment before COP28. Gonzalo Munoz, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP25, underscores the urgency to scale food systems action to achieve food and nutrition security, as a solution to deliver climate mitigation and adaptation, and protect and restore our natural world. He outlines how non-state actors can play a catalytic role towards more sustainable and resilient food systems.

The scorching heat currently engulfing Rome serves as a stark backdrop to our discussions here at the second UN Food Systems Summit. Held within these ancient city walls, this conference is a timely reminder that our actions today will shape the future of our planet and generations yet to come. The science is clear – we need to transform our food system, urgently, to deliver for people and the planet

Recent years have unleashed a domino effect of challenges – from the pervasive impacts of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, to droughts and heatwaves – exposing the fragility of our existing food systems. They have underscored the necessity to build sustainable and resilient food systems that can respond and adapt to climate change and other shocks and stresses. Building on the momentum of the first Food Systems Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in the Autumn of 2021, we gather here in Rome to accelerate action. This is where we scrutinize progress, refuel our ambition, and figure out how we fast-track the transformation of our food systems. 

Our food systems are both a cause and casualty of climate change. They account for nearly a third of global emissions and are the main culprit behind deforestation. They are also severely impacted by climate change, with changing rainfall patterns, extreme weather events and droughts depleting crop yields. Amid all this, the irony persists: despite producing an excess of calories, over 700 million people last year faced hunger and more than 3 billion people still cannot afford a healthy diet. Food systems are also the main driver of increased risk of future pandemics due to large-scale land conversion disrupting forests and natural habitats.

At the same time, food systems are a key part of the solution and can be a catalyst for change. Sustainable and resilient food systems are integral for achieving food and nutrition security and realising our global climate and biodiversity goals. We must transform our food systems to ensure access to affordable, healthy, and sustainable food for all, and importantly, to advance equitable livelihoods for smallholder farmers as well as protecting and restoring nature. 

The solutions require us not to reinvent the wheel, but to regenerate the Earth. We can draw upon the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and many family farmers around the world who understand the importance of working with nature, not against it, and what works in their specific contexts. Aligning our food systems with nature doesn’t just yield ecological and health benefits – a growing set of evidence shows they often also make economic sense by helping to maintain soil health and increase crop yields in the long run, reducing dependency on expensive inputs, lowering risk from climate extremes, and tapping into growing markets for sustainably produced foods. Embracing these solutions can therefore be a win-win-win situation: a healthy planet, healthy people, and a healthier bottom line.

At the UNFSS+2 Summit, H.E. Mariam Almheiri launched the COP28 Presidency’s Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda, calling on all actors to scale-up solutions in the pursuit of a healthier planet and healthier people. In collaboration with the COP28 Presidency and on behalf of the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, H.E. Razan Al Mubarak and Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, we are working with a wide range of stakeholders across the food value chain, from farmers to financiers, to accelerate the transformation of our food systems. These actors are already leading and implementing actions across key food systems transformation areas: reducing agriculture production emissions, shifting to healthy and sustainable diets, reducing food loss and waste, and protecting and restoring nature, including no further land conversion for agriculture. Our goal is to scale-up and accelerate existing efforts.

For example, 16 cities – Milan, Seoul, and Quezon City among them – have committed to C40’s Good Food Accelerator. Their goal is a diet for their residents by 2030 that mirrors the unique cultural, geographical, and demographic aspects of each city. They plan to accomplish this by changing procurement practices to favour sustainably-sourced foods and incentivizing local retailers to increase their selection of these products.

Moreover, over 35 financial institutions with more than US$8.5 trillion in assets under management are working to eliminate agricultural commodity-driven deforestation risks in their investment and lending portfolios by 2025. There’s also the School Meals Coalition promoting sustainable, healthy, and nutritious school meals, and the Global Methane Hub’s work on reducing emissions from livestock production. 

Building on Regen10 that was launched at COP27, efforts are also gearing up the shift to regenerative and agroecological approaches that deliver for people, climate and nature. Under the leadership of the COP28 Presidency, co-led by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and supported by the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, the COP28-30 Action Agenda on Regenerative Landscapes aims to collaborate with a broad group of stakeholders, including food companies, farmers, producer organisations, and civil society groups, to fast-track the regenerative transition of large agricultural landscapes.

This initiative will adopt the Regenerative Outcomes Framework, being developed by Regen10, to drive accountability by measuring progress against outcomes such as soil health, biodiversity, farmer livelihoods, food and nutrition security, and the reduction of greenhouse gases. The Framework is currently being tested, with input from farmers, businesses and other actors, with a view to creating an aligned and holistic approach to measuring the outcomes of regenerative farms and landscapes.

As we look ahead, several key milestones are on the horizon. Beyond the Summit, we look forward to the Amazon Treaty Summit in August, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September, and, of course, COP28, at the end of the year. At each of these moments, we urge leaders to bring food systems to the fore as a key climate solution. We especially welcome the strengthening of the connection between the food systems and nature agendas in the arc to COP30 in 2025 that will be hosted by Brazil, and hope to see many countries’ updating their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) with further action on food systems.

The path ahead is monumental and not for the faint-hearted. However, we cannot afford to shy away from this task. Our food systems lie at the nexus of food and nutrition security, climate change mitigation, adaptation, resilience, and biodiversity conservation. Transforming them can enable affordable, healthy, and sustainable food for all, expedite climate action, halt wildlife loss and ecosystem degradation, and cultivate a sustainable, equitable, and resilient future.

While in this beautiful city, under the scorching sun, we carry the heat of urgency with us – a potent reminder of the imminent climate catastrophe we’re working to prevent. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and hasten our pace. COP28 and COP30 are on the horizon, and our collective action today will determine our planet’s future tomorrow. The journey continues, and together, we are ready to face it.

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