Global audience gathers to discuss True Cost Accounting as countdown to UN Food Systems Summit begins

Earlier this month, as a lead-up session to the UN Food Systems Summit, UN Environment Programme, Capitals Coalition and the Global Alliance for the Future of Food convened and curated: True Cost Accounting for Food Systems: Redefining Value to Transform Decision-making

The global community is only a few growing seasons away from delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals and UNFCCC climate targets and we urgently need to address the hidden costs and impacts that food systems have on nature, people and society. Indeed, the ability to accurately and holistically assess and understand food systems is essential if we are to succeed in addressing the deeply interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, social inequities and human health.  

Bringing together almost 100 people from across sectors, this Independent Dialogue created a dynamic way for a diverse range of stakeholders to explore how they can unite around transformative action on food systems. Participants were in support of applying approaches and tools to make visible the often-neglected impacts that food systems have on the world around us — like habitat destruction, soil erosion, water contamination, displacement of Indigenous Peoples, and food and nutrition security, as well as the  dependencies and interconnections between these impacts. 

Some of the key questions we explored together included: 

  • What are the barriers and solutions for the uptake of value-based decision making? 
  • How can we strengthen the political support for comprehensive food systems evaluations (at the UN Food Systems Summit and beyond)? 
  • How can comprehensive food systems evaluations contribute to recognizing trade-offs and synergies? 
  • How can cross-pollination between sectors and coalition-building can drive systems transformation?

Action is critical to the food systems transformation agenda. Without collaboration and harmonized approaches, frameworks and tools that enable us to act systemically and transparently, we will be flying blind in our actions to address the challenges we face. It’s important to note too that the positive benefits of food systems — carbon sequestration, insect pollination, resilience to natural disasters, and vibrant communities — can only be enhanced if we revalue them and work across sectors and siloes. True Cost Accounting and moving beyond simple economic metrics to include natural, human, and social capital is a powerful tool that will help us make better decisions about the future of food. 

Next steps

In line with the Independent Dialogue process, we will be synthesizing the dialogue and submitting the shared recommendations for the UN Food Systems Summit to adopt True Cost Accounting as systemic and cross-cutting levers to inform decisions.

Together, we will continue to work to strengthen the common vision of how True Cost Accounting and redefining the value provided by nature, people, and society can improve decision-making related to agriculture and food systems, further catalyzing this growing coalition committed to the food systems transformation agenda. 

Ultimately, a comprehensive understanding of food systems empowers decision-makers to analyze and compare complex scenarios and design policies and practices that benefit people and nature. As lead author of the TEEBAgriFood Evaluation Framework and 2020 Tyler Prize for nature winner Pavan Sukhdev recently said (in relation to the launch of this book): “We can only manage what we measure…”