Feeding a growing world as it faces climate change

Cattle in Rwanda. Photo by: CIAT / CC BY-NC-SA

SAN FRANCISCO — The global food system is getting its moment in the spotlight at the Global Climate Action Summit, with several funding announcements signaling a new focus on an industry that accounts for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

This comes amidst a debate about the future of meat and how to meet growing demand — consumption of meat and dairy is expected to increase 60-70 percent in the next three decades — while also meeting the climate targets set forth by the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Global Environment Facility announced a new initiative focused on food systems last week. The $500 million commitment makes the new program the single largest initiative in the facility’s history. GEF is looking to work with partners to find ways to transform food systems before ecosystems are stretched to a breaking point, Naoko Ishii, the fund’s chief executive officer, told Devex.

“For us to really address the challenge we are facing not only do we think about climate and energy, we must also think about food systems,” she said.

Another example of the commitments that emerged is FoodShot Global, a platform to connect innovations for a more sustainable food system with the mentorship and investment they need.

The initiative will provide up to $30 million a year in debt or equity funds to “big, global scale problems, moonshots for better food,” said Victor Friedberg, who is leading the initiative. Initially, FoodShot will focus on soil health, where innovations could have huge implications for the 94 percent of smallholder farmers who produce 70 percent of the world’s food. The Rockefeller Foundation and the Innovation Institute for Food and Health at the University of California, Davis, are among the founding partners.

“When we talk about a healthier, more sustainable, more equitable food system, there are huge potential benefits for smallholder farmers (and to their communities),” Friedberg wrote via email.

“Everyone we've talked to emphasizes the importance of context-specific solutions, which is why this is a global platform. We aren't trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution, but we are trying to bring innovation and new tools to advance a new soil operating system for farmers around the world. And, with our partners, we're looking to cultivate a broader ecosystem that incentivizes practices that improve food security, reduce agriculture's environmental footprint, and improve farmer profitability.”

While demand for food, and particularly meat, seems set to grow, finding ways to conserve natural lands, reduce excess consumption, cut waste, and improve the efficiency of food systems also presents an opportunity to deliver climate solutions, said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of the Climate and Energy Practice at the World Wide Fund for Nature, at the Global Climate Action Summit on Thursday.

“Agriculture, forestry, and other land uses contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world, yet land-oriented climate change solutions receive only 3 percent of climate funding. Today we committed to taking the steps needed to close that gap,” he said.

“With the next round of U.N. climate talks right around the corner, countries must advance more of these conversations to set science-based targets and develop land-based solutions that will help mitigate the worst effects of climate change.”

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.