‘Just the start’: Green groups react to the FAO’s 1.5C roadmap for the food sector

The UN FAO has unveiled an ambitious roadmap to end world hunger by revamping the global food sector and aligning it with the 1.5C pathway of the Paris Agreement, but while green groups have welcomed the aims of the report they have expressed concerns about key omissions regarding livestock and fossil fuels.

‘Just the start’: Green groups react to the FAO’s 1.5C roadmap for the food sector

The FAO unveiled its ambitious new roadmap on Food, Agriculture and Water Day at COP28 (10 December). The Global Roadmap for Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) without Breaching the 1.5°C Threshold outlines more than 120 actions and milestones to transform food production to respond to the twin threats of the climate crisis and chronic hunger globally. The programme bids to deliver the Paris Agreement while ensure that SDG 2: Zero Hunger is delivered.

The FAO has introduced targets to reduce methane emissions from agrifood production and systems by 25% by 2030, relative to 2020 levels, before reaching carbon neutrality by 2035. Long-term targets include transforming the sector into a net-positive carbon sink by 2050, capturing 1.5 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

It also sets out a pathway to eliminate chronic undernourishment by 2030 while promoting healthy diets globally by 2050. Additional milestones listed in the roadmap include halving global food waste per capita by 2030 and updating the FAO’s food-based dietary guidelines (FBSG) to ensure each country has recommendations suited to its circumstances on dietary patterns.

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While the ambitions of the roadmap have been welcomed, many green groups are stating that the FAO has so far failed to truly shift to a sustainable food system by moving away from meat and livestock, while others believe that more focus on fossil fuels was needed in the roadmap.

Here, edie rounds up the key reaction to the landmark programme.

Alex Wijeratna, Senior Director at Mighty Earth

“The FAO seems to have caved-in to the big meat lobby by calling for more global meat production in their Roadmap at COP28. Intensive meat and livestock systems are responsible for a whopping 12% of all global climate emissions and so it’s essential that we transition to producing less meat, rather than more. The science says richer countries need to radically reduce their meat consumption if we’re to limit global heating, but with this FAO roadmap it’s only going to increase emissions.”

Prof. Appolinaire Djikeng, Director General of CGIAR’s International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

“The International Livestock Research Institute welcomes the FAO’s roadmap for ending hunger without breaching the 1.5C threshold. The strategy makes valuable and pragmatic recommendations for increasing climate finance to help improve the productivity of livestock systems in low-income countries. This would reduce the emissions associated with climate-related losses while also strengthening a sector that provides vital and scarce sources of high quality nutrition and rural livelihoods for almost two billion people among other benefits.

“The roadmap makes the important distinction between the challenges facing livestock systems in low-income countries and the environmental impact of livestock systems in high-income countries. For African countries especially, the ability to benefit from livestock is central to ensuring that Africa’s response to the climate crisis is also just and equitable. This is why a new African narrative for livestock is needed – to fully differentiate the needs and challenges facing small-scale producers from the industrialised systems in the Global North.”

ActionAid spokesperson:

“The Roadmap’s big problem is that it can’t bring itself to name the real issues at stake. It dances around the elephant in the room, pointing the finger anywhere but the actual culprits in the food sector. In failing to name chemical fertilisers, factory farming or industrialised agriculture as the major sources of emissions and deforestation, its recommendations boil down to protecting the status quo. 

“One quarter of the world’s people base their livelihoods on agriculture. The Roadmap struggles with the tension between the need to protect the livelihoods of billions of farmers, and the compulsion to cheerlead the agribusiness technologies that displace labour, livelihoods, and local knowledge.  

“The lack of joined-up-thinking is illustrated by a naïve endorsement of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) to drive down global temperatures. BECCS is more likely to drive land grabs and deforestation, harming farmers and creating conflicts over land and food. It’s surprising to see food experts blind to that likely outcome.” 

Patty Fong, Program Director at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, said:

“The Roadmap contains many welcome recommendations, including how to unlock healthy diets and safeguard vulnerable populations from ultra-processed foods.

“But to make our food systems truly sustainable, we must commit to phasing out fossil fuels from farm to plate—not simply reducing their impact. For example, the Roadmap recommends improving the efficiency of fertilizer use, instead of unequivocally calling for a wholesale shift towards sustainable farming practices (such as agroecology and regenerative agriculture).

“Currently, food systems account for at least 15% of fossil fuels burned each year. Sustainable farming methods restore soil health, enhance biodiversity, reduce water demand, and break food systems’ dependence on toxic, energy-intensive and costly inputs (such as chemical fertilisers and pesticides). Grassroots producers—particularly small-holder farmers, women and Indigenous communities—must be included in all discussions, including the modeling of pathways for global food systems transformation.”

Jeremy Coller, Chair and founder of FAIRR

“Climate science is clear that we must urgently transition the food sector to a future where the job of putting food on our plates doesn’t cost the Earth. For nearly two years, FAIRR’s investor members have called for the UN FAO to lead the transition by setting out milestones in a roadmap for the food and agriculture sector. A roadmap is critical to set out a framework and clear milestones to help markets understand what a net zero food sector looks like. As we saw with the energy sector, a roadmap can send a clear signal and help ensure policy and capital are in sync.

“The summary report issued this weekend is just the start of this important conversation. Investors and other stakeholders will welcome the focus on methane reduction and realignment of subsidies to support farmers’ transition but will want more detail on areas such as deforestation, healthy diets, water and antibiotic usage. However, the signal from policymakers is clear.

“We will look back at COP28 as the turning point for a seismic shift in agri-food policy and investment in the decade ahead. COP28 started with the Emirates Declaration which commits more than 150 companies to include food and agriculture in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), but it is critically important that this COP ends with food and agriculture being accounted for in the Global Stocktake (GST).”

Alexander Burr, ESG Policy Lead, Legal & General Investment Management

“Agriculture alone is identified as the threat to 24,000 of the 28,000 (86%) species at risk of extinction, and land degradation has been estimated to cost between $6.3 and $10.6 trillion annually. We therefore strongly welcome the release of the first phase of the Global Roadmap for Agriculture and Land Use.

“It is a complex sector that is both at high risk from nature loss and climate change, whilst also being a critical sector to transition if we are to achieve our international commitments set out in the Global Biodiversity Framework and Paris Agreement, and also the long-term strength of our health systems. This independent and robust global roadmap, combined with guidance from initiatives such as the Science Based Targets, enables investors to hold companies and policymakers to account and accelerate the transition.”

Alongside the FAO programme, COP28 also saw the launch of the Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation (ACF). Brazil, Cambodia, Norway, Sierra Leone and Rwanda are the five nations that have launched the Alliance in a bid to transform national food systems to deliver universal access to affordable, nutritious and sustainable diets.

The nations have committed to a ‘whole of government’ approach to transforming food systems across the themes of food and nutrition security; adaptation and resilience; equity and livelihoods; nature and biodiversity; and climate mitigation.

Edward Davey, Partnerships Director, Food and Land Use Coalition and Head, UK office, World Resources Institute Europe:    

“The world has long needed champions to transform the way they produce and consume food amidst the climate crisis. That’s exactly why this Alliance is so important — these countries will show us what transformation can look like, and the rest of the world will benefit from their leadership. Along with the Emirates Declaration, these efforts finally put food in the spotlight in the climate fight, right alongside fossil fuels. 

“This vanguard group of countries, spanning the global south and north and representing a variety of food systems, is committed to a whole-of-government approach within national borders. Recognizing that transforming food systems will look different in every country, members aim to collaborate, share lessons and knowledge, and accelerate innovation to work better for people, nature and climate. 

“In a world hungry for transformative solutions to the climate crisis, this alliance emerges as a beacon of change and of hope. The momentum from this promising start should now resonate globally, urging nations to align with the Alliance’s leadership and foster a collective effort to driving forward national and multilateral progress on food and climate at this critical time.”

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