Cities are leading the way towards a more sustainable food system

Cities are leading the way towards a more sustainable food system

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is a network of 94 of the world’s greatest cities that are working together to take bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future. Visit any of the amazing C40 cities and you’re sure to enjoy some of the best cuisines the world has to offer. What is often overlooked and misunderstood, however, is that the food we eat has an enormous impact on the health of our planet.

C40 recently analyzed how much food systems contribute to carbon emissions within cities, and found that in 2017, food consumption in C40 cities accounted for 13% of cities’ total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and of that, consumption of animal-sourced food accounts for roughly 75% of those food emissions. Especially troubling in light of how many people suffer from hunger is that one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted, often piling up in landfills, producing and emitting methane, an especially potent heat-trapping gas into the air.

The global food system is out of balance. Currently, more than 820 million people are suffering from hunger and nearly 2 billion people suffer from the effects of obesity. What and how much we eat are not just hurting our health, but also the ecosystem that supports human life. Yet, food often forms a core part of our identities; it is frequently an important way we connect with friends, family, and strangers across borders and cultures.

Food is amongst the largest drivers of global environmental change contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss, fresh-water usage, interference with the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and land-use system change. As urbanization continues to bring more people to urban areas, it is expected that by 2050 80% of all food will be consumed in cities. Research shows that without substantial changes, greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector will increase by 38% by 2050. Rapid urban population growth, coupled with an increased demand for food production, has an outsized impact on our planet’s wellbeing. The world is facing a climate crisis, causing droughts, floods, and desertification, threatening our ability to feed everyone on the planet.

Yet there are great signs for optimism. Earlier this month, at the C40 World Mayors Conference 14 global cities committed to the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration, in order to promote and preserve the health of citizens and the health of the planet. These mayors will work with their citizens to achieve a ‘Planetary Health Diet’ for all by 2030, with balanced and nutritious food, reflective of the culture, geography, and demography of their citizens. Mayors will use their procurement powers to change what kind of food their cities’ buy, and introduce policies that make healthy, delicious and low-carbon food affordable and accessible for all. They’ll also make efforts to greatly reduce food loss and wasted food.

The cities which signed the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration are Barcelona, Copenhagen, Guadalajara, Lima, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Oslo, Paris, Quezon City, Seoul, Stockholm, Tokyo, and Toronto. 

Eating a sustainable diet and avoiding food waste could cut greenhouse gas emissions from the food we eat by more than 60%. Research by The EAT-Lancet Commission released in January 2019 found that if adopted universally, the ‘Planetary Health Diet’ would dramatically reduce emissions, provide a balanced, nutritional diet for 10 billion people, and save 11 million lives each year. The planetary health diet is non-prescriptive and locally relevant to all regions. It is comprised of balanced and nutritious food, with a ‘planetary health plate’ consisting of approximately half a plate of vegetables and fruits; the other half primarily whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils, and (optionally) modest amounts of animal sources of protein.

Under the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration, cities have committed to:

● Align food procurement policies to the Planetary Health Diet ideally sourced from organic agriculture

● Support an overall increase of healthy plant-based food consumption in our cities by shifting away from unsustainable, unhealthy diets.

● Reduce food loss and waste by 50% from 2015 figures; and

● Work with citizens, businesses, public institutions, and other organizations to develop a joint strategy for implementing these measures and achieving these goals inclusively and equitably, and incorporating this strategy into the city’s Climate Action Plan.

This is not merely a political statement of intent, you can see details of their plans here.

As a sign of how important cities are to helping support a positive transformation of global food systems, these 14 signatory cities serve 500 million meals per year - in schools, hospitals, and other public buildings, and are improving availability and affordability of delicious, nutritious and sustainable food for their 64 million citizens. The C40 Good Food Cities Declaration will therefore directly benefit millions of people and provide a clear signal to the market that there is a great demand for healthy, low carbon food. Cities are leading the way in the transition towards a more sustainable food system, one which nourishes its citizens and the planet. 

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