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The Food Revolution Is Up to Us

Even if the world were to move to carbon-free energy sources tomorrow, the climate crisis still will not have been addressed, because industrial agriculture would continue to drive both planetary warming and biodiversity loss. A food-systems revolution is therefore past due.

BRUSSELS – This year, the United Nations is convening a special gathering to “raise awareness and elevate public discussion” about how food-system reform can help us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But the world needs much more than a food-systems summit. It needs a food revolution. With nature’s capacity to support human life having already reached a breaking point, changing what we put on our plates has become an urgent priority – one that will play a crucial role in determining the future living conditions on planet Earth.

Across G20 countries, the majority (60%) of people know that we must make a rapid transition to renewable energies this decade. Not only are the necessary technologies increasingly available and affordable; pressure from both civil society and the financial sector is growing. Yet only 41% of people recognize that we also need to transform our food systems in this decisive decade. This glaring gap in awareness shows that we need a wake-up call.

For decades, land-based ecosystems have been absorbing around 30% of excess carbon-dioxide emissions, protecting us from the worst climate shocks. But over the last 50 years, we have obliterated at least half of these natural assets. When forests, for example, are destroyed for industrial food production, they do not just stop absorbing CO2; they start emitting it. Assets that were contributing to the planet’s resilience suddenly become liabilities that are undermining it. This double-whammy is why food production now accounts for over one-third of global emissions.

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