Reports, Environment


Food and agriculture are significant contributors to, and heavily impacted by, climate change. With an estimated 30 percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions coming from food and agriculture, there are significant opportunities for mitigating GHG emissions. Despite a growing body of literature about climate change and agriculture, relatively little analysis and focus has been put on climate change and food systems, more broadly. The narrower focus on climate change and agricultural production prevents consideration of a broad range of mitigation and adaptation strategies, as well as the systems-level effects of narrowly targeted interventions.

To explore the connections between climate change and food systems, the Global Alliance brought together more than 250 stakeholders from farmers and policy-makers to corporate executives and grassroots leaders at its 2nd International Dialogue: The Future of Food in a Climate Changing World in the spring of 2017. A cornerstone of the gathering was the preparation of a report to better understand, from the peer-reviewed literature, what policies, programs, regulations, and actions can be taken by a variety of stakeholders to minimize the impact of food systems on climate change, and vice versa.

Global Alliance Executive Director, Ruth Richardson, says, “As a starting point, we were interested in exploring the challenges, opportunities, priorities, risks, and trade-offs of addressing climate change through a food systems perspective.”

The Climate Change & Food Systems: Assessing Impacts and Opportunities report argues that approaching climate mitigation and adaptation in the context of food systems broadens the range of opportunities to achieve mitigation and adaptation goals, and facilitates the consideration of systems-level effects and interactions. The Meridian Institute led the development of the report – together with a stellar interdisciplinary author team and advisory committee – drawing from their extensive experience working with diverse partners to address complex challenges and advising national governments on sustainability issues.

“Taking a food systems perspective enables engagement of the full range of stakeholders that should be involved in food systems transformation. This perspective is critical to addressing climate change.”

“Taking a food systems perspective enables engagement of the full range of stakeholders that should be involved in food systems transformation,” points out Meridian Institute Project Lead, Rex Raimond. “This perspective is critical to addressing climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which cover multiple sectors that are linked by food.”

Mitigation and adaptation opportunities informed by peer-reviewed literature

The expert authors of the report synthesized peer-reviewed literature that examines the mutual impacts of food systems activities (ranging from pre-production to production, post-production, consumption, and waste) and climate change. Based on this literature review and discussions with leading food and agriculture experts who work on climate change adaptation and mitigation, the authors developed 10 key messages and documented mitigation opportunities and their adaptation potential. The key messages highlight critical considerations for identifying and evaluating actions for climate change mitigation and food systems transformation.

Eight climate change and food systems principles support systemic approaches

To support stakeholders in making choices about adaptation and mitigation interventions using a food systems perspective, the authors identified eight Climate Change Food Systems Principles. These include: 1) interconnectedness; 2) equity; 3) resilience; 4) renewability; 5) responsiveness; 6) transparency; 7) scale; and 8) evaluation.

The principles are informed by the Global Alliance’s principles, applied to climate change and designed to help stakeholders work systemically to avoid siloed approaches, unintended consequences, and limited, narrow, short-term solutions.

Broad perspectives, informed recommendations

The author team highlights a number of important recommendations, including: inclusion of equity considerations in climate change mitigation and adaptation plans; more systems-level research, particularly in the peer-reviewed literature; the need to highlight and bridge local, Indigenous, practitioner, and academic knowledge in designing actions that transform food systems; and, the engagement of a diverse array of stakeholders to envision equitable, sustainable, and resilient food systems and develop specific transformation pathways together.

Overall, the report offers a broad perspective on food systems activities and seeks to help stakeholders explore new partnerships, share knowledge, and identify diverse communities, sectors, and other stakeholders that have roles to play in support of changes needed within their food systems. We hope the report will contribute to a deeper understanding of food systems and climate change and the thoughtful review and development of actions that will – ultimately – contribute to sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems.