The facts are clear, and they demand our attention. Food systems are at the heart of the climate crisis, both as culprits and victims. These systems contribute a staggering one-third of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) while being remarkably susceptible to the very climate changes they help fuel.
Climate Change: A Risky Business for Food Production
Climate change has transformed food production into a high-stakes gamble. Unpredictable weather patterns, soaring temperatures, and extreme events pose existential threats to the agricultural sector. Beyond the economic losses, these shifts compromise the nutrient density of staple crops, rendering them less nourishing. Some food is even tainted with harmful bacteria like E. coli, rendering it unsafe for consumption.
The consequences are devastating. When children lack access to sufficient and nutritious food, malnutrition rears its ugly head. It's not just a health issue; it's a threat to life itself. Climate-induced disruptions lead to malnutrition, causing the death of countless children. Those who survive often never reach their full potential. Malnutrition hampers brain development and immune system growth, affecting one in five children worldwide. This has far-reaching effects on societies, stifling not only children's growth but also economic development.
Urgent Action Needed
The stark reality is that nutrition action is not scaling up fast enough. Efforts to reduce child stunting and wasting have stalled, and anemia rates in women remain stubbornly high. On the flip side of the malnutrition coin, we are witnessing an explosion of non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity worldwide.
Collaboration: The Missing Link
Where are the nutrition experts collaborating with climate specialists to create opportunities for climate action by adapting food systems? Conversely, where are the climate experts finding new ways to mitigate the impact of climate change on food systems? For instance, in regions with underdeveloped markets, prices of nutritious foods like vegetables, pulses, and eggs fluctuate wildly from season to season, affecting child development. There's a clear need for nutritionists and climate experts to collaborate to reduce these seasonal disparities.
Two Critical Moments
Two significant events are on the horizon: COP28 in the UAE and the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit in France. Together, they offer an opportunity to advance both agendas by investing in them in an integrated way, accelerating progress faster than if we continue to work in isolation.
The Types of Investments Needed
Healthier diets in the global north can lead to lower GHG emissions because the global north consumes excessive animal source foods, far beyond the national food-based dietary guidelines recommend. It's crucial to change how consumers, policymakers, and business leaders view diets rich in foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, and chicken. These foods aren't luxuries; they are necessities. However, they remain unaffordable for three billion people. Finding ways to make them more accessible can advance better nutrition outcomes and benefit the planet.
Reducing food loss and waste (FLFW) of nutritious foods is also essential, although challenging, as these foods are typically fresh and susceptible to spoilage. Addressing FLFW for nutritious foods benefits nutrition and reduces emissions that serve no nutritional purpose but harm the planet.
Government purchases of food for schools that focus on nutrition and emissions can advance both goals. Currently, purchases are based on hunger reduction, not nutrition or climate, and this needs to change.
The Role of Women
In all climate-nutrition actions, it's crucial to consider the multiple challenges women face. They are more exposed to climate hazards due to their key roles in food production and water collection. This exposure places additional demands on their time and workload, affecting their ability to provide food security and child nutrition. This has far-reaching consequences for intergenerational nutrition.
Opportunities for Integrated Action
Opportunities to introduce double-edged investments in climate and nutrition action do exist. The recently released ICAN baseline report shows precisely where these opportunities lie. The report reviewed tens of thousands of policies, strategies, and investments across over 100 countries, agencies, and businesses.
COP28 and N4G: The Crucial Opportunities
COP28 in Dubai and N4G in Paris provide significant opportunities for stakeholders to make a substantial difference. Though it may not be easy, it's simple. By integrating nutrition and climate action, we can make changes that will benefit people and the planet, today and tomorrow. The sum of the parts is indeed greater than the whole when we collaborate to address the intertwined challenges of nutrition and climate change.