Our food systems and environment are inextricably linked. The way food systems work has an impact on the environment because food production uses soil, water, and natural resources and adds waste to the surroundings. Together, food systems and the environment have significant impacts on human health, through the food available for human consumption and the quality of the air and water.
There have been 26 COPs (Conferences Of the Parties under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) since 1995 to help the world recognise and understand the importance of climate change and its consequences for humans and the planet. Climate change is, in some ways, a vicious cycle of humans killing humans.
The recent COP26 meeting in Glasgow focused on revisiting goals and proposing new plans to limit rising temperatures to 1.5°C and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, despite food system supporters pushing to include food systems on the climate action agenda, food systems and their impact on climate were not given enough attention during the dialogues. Food systems transformation can go a long way to reducing negative impacts on the environment and human health.
According to one report, food systems contribute to one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, which are directly responsible for rising global temperatures and their consequences. From farm to plate, food goes through several stages, including production, processing, packaging, and transportation. All of these processes use fossil-fuel-powered energy and generate hazardous waste, either in the form of chemical discharges from farms or factories, through food packaging waste, or through emissions during transportation.
Consumption of meat, particularly beef, is another contentious link between food systems and climate change. According to the World Research Institute, reducing beef consumption by half could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 billion tonnes each year.
When we talk about climate change, we tend to think about rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and shifting weather patterns. We rarely discuss health issues that are equally dangerous consequences of climate change, such as respiratory diseases, hunger, and malnutrition.
Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress, according to a WHO estimate.
To understand the carbon footprint of our diets, we must reassess our plate (carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by an individual, activity, or product).
Possible changes we can each implement include: