Reducing Food Loss and Waste is a Job for Everyone at COP28
November 30, 2023
In recent years, more people understand how the food we eat affects climate change. Less well-known is the extent to which the climate crisis is driven by the food we don’t eat.
Each year, one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted, accounting for 8 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, more than 783 million people worldwide are food insecure. Put another way, $1.2 trillion is trashed each year, while hundreds of millions of people go hungry. You don’t have to be an expert to see that the global food system is broken.
In 2015, the world forged the Paris Agreement, built on a shared commitment to keep global temperature rise to 1.5o C above pre-industrial levels. As we head to COP28, it’s essential that those gathering in Dubai recognize that the Paris Agreement will not be achieved unless the global food system is transformed.
The good news is that the COP28 Presidency has put food systems at the top of the agenda, injecting momentum into the global goal to halve food loss and waste by 2030. We also already know there are many time-tested solutions to advance this goal, which benefits people, nature, and the climate.
Food banking represents one such solution. Food banks are community-led organizations that serve as a bridge between food producers and retailers and local agencies that distribute food to people in need. Not only do food banks expand food access for people, they support community resilience and reduce emissions. Last year, GFN’s member food banks, working in 50 countries, served over 32 million people, while redirecting enough food to avoid approximately 1.5 billion kilograms of CO2e—the equivalent of taking 336,000 passenger vehicles off the road for one year.
Yet, food banking is just one example of food loss and waste reduction in action. And today, it still only recovers a small portion of the total food lost and wasted each year. There are many opportunities to accelerate and scale progress. World Bank analysis has found that there are economic and social benefits to transforming the food system, including through food loss and waste reduction.
Here are five ways that the broader climate community can advance action on food loss and waste at COP28 and beyond:
1. Integrate food systems into national climate plans
As governments look to update their national climate strategies (or NDCs), they should include specific actions, including reducing food loss and waste, that will help to transform their food systems. Today, only 21 countries include food loss and waste in their NDCs. Action on food loss and waste is included in the Leaders Declaration on Food and Climate, which will be signed by national governments and will be launched in Dubai.
Additionally, governments can reform food donation laws and policies to encourage the redistribution of healthy, surplus food. The Food Donation Policy Atlas – a partnership between GFN and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic – analyzes food donation policies and laws. Of the 24 countries that have been assessed so far, only six have strong national food loss and waste laws or policies in place. More countries should take advantage of this opportunity.
2. Direct more finance to food system transformation
Major economies should increase the share of climate finance directed toward food systems. Currently, only about 4 percent of climate finance is directed toward the food and agricultural sector, despite it being responsible for one-third of emissions. According to research from the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), between $300-350 billion of private and public capital is needed to transform the global food system. Additionally, finance should be delivered where the needs are greatest, especially to low-income countries.
3. Collect and better leverage data
We need better data to understand the full impact of how reducing food loss and waste can lower emissions. While progress has been made in recent years, there are still gaps in knowledge and analysis, which would strengthen the evidence base for investments and action. For example, we know that 20 percent of global methane emissions are attributable to food waste, but we don’t have a full picture of the sectors that are responsible for these emissions along with where the opportunities for prevention and recovery are greatest. We also need to further understand how the private sector can reduce its share of food waste and develop tools to better track and report on progress.
4. Embrace new technologies and innovations
A range of new technologies have emerged over the last decade that are creating opportunities to more efficiently link surplus food with those experiencing food insecurity. This includes a growth in start-ups and investors who are supporting new platforms. Food banks have also been developing apps and using new technology to more quickly and easily connect with retailers and hospitality companies that have food available for redistribution. With additional investments, these technologies can be scaled dramatically, increasing the amount of food recovered and distributed.
5. Shifting Behavior
One of the most important steps to encourage food loss and waste reduction is by shifting people’s perceptions and norms. A report from the World Resources Institute finds that raising awareness alone is not enough to change people’s behavior. Rather, this requires additional actions, such as advertising campaigns that change perceptions along with pricing strategies and policies that incentivize different actions.
At the end of the day, we need an “all-of-society” approach to transform the global food system, creating change from food producers and farmers, through the supply chain, and all the way to retailers and consumers. We also need to advance the research agenda, share knowledge and best practices, and raise awareness of the benefits of action. Citizen groups, community leaders, youth, and other local actors can use their voices to encourage greater progress by governments and business leaders.
COP28 has already elevated food systems transformation on the climate agenda. We hope government officials will bring a new-found sense of urgency to repair food systems and usher in solutions that expand food access, benefit nature, and tackle the climate crisis.