Blogs, Systems Thinking

Why we need to use climate finance to fund food systems transformation

A new report released this week outlines a range of strategic opportunities for the climate finance and philanthropic communities to use food systems transformation to achieve national and global climate goals. 

The publication, Untapped Opportunities: Climate Financing for Food Systems Transformation, comes just weeks before policymakers, observers, and other stakeholders meet in Egypt for COP27. 

Food systems are responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Interventions that promote sustainable food systems reform can, as an outcome, support countries in taking tangible action toward achieving their climate goals. Yet just 3% of public finance is directed to food systems. 

Recent scientific reports have made abundantly clear the need to take immediate climate action to stay below the 1.5 degree Celsius target set out in the Paris Agreement. According to our new report, directing climate finance toward food systems transformation is perhaps the best way to do this. Here are the highlights of why and how it can be done.

Food systems measures are a cost-effective way to achieve large-scale emissions reductions

When it comes to climate targets, food systems transformation is one-way countries can get a huge bang for their buck. Estimates suggest that USD 300 to 350 billion is needed annually through 2030 to support the transition to sustainable and climate-resilient food systems. This is a broad category that includes everything from healthy diets to stronger rural livelihoods to nature protection and restoration – reflecting the ability for holistic food systems measures to also positively impact several of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

While this may seem like a significant amount, consider that USD 528 billion of public money goes towards agricultural practices that can harm the environment and climate. Ample evidence exists around which food and agricultural system measures could best deliver co-benefits for health, the environment, and the economy – it’s the job of the finance community to ensure those are reflected in funding envelopes. 

Countries are currently failing to meet their emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement. As we monitor progress (or a lack thereof) at COP27, let’s look to food systems as a solution that can bring short and long-term gains.

National governments have key outlets to build in food systems measures

A country’s climate goals are only as strong as the measures it has in place to achieve them. Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are climate action plans that serve as national roadmaps for action. Unfortunately, 70% of the NDCs reviewed in our report lack adequate detail on the funding needs for climate action in food systems. This hinders the mobilization of climate finance. 

With NDCs up for review every five years, there are various toolkits and case studies designed to help policymakers and climate activists advocate for greater – and more detailed – food systems inclusion in the next update.

Outside of NDC plans, food and agricultural policies are another outlet where policymakers can ensure alignment with climate goals. Our report found that 86% of public finance going to agricultural production ignores its impacts on the environment, health, and resilience. 

This includes price support and harmful incentives for commodities like sugar, beef, dairy, and rice. Instead, more public finance should be directed towards localized agroecology approaches, as well as the production of native and indigenous crop varieties. 

It’s time to channel increased climate finance to food systems action

Our analysis found that food systems priorities are commonly underestimated and underfunded in NDCs. Developing countries declare funding needs of USD 14 billion per year for food systems actions – just one-fifth of what they estimate as their financial needs for energy and transport measures. This suggests countries could benefit from further research or support to help them hone in on how to better direct climate financing to food systems mitigation, adaptation, and measures to address the loss and damages caused by climate-related events

At COP27, we expect to see the countries most vulnerable to climate change pressuring wealthy, high-polluting nations to pay their share of loss and damage funding – as well as the annual USD 100 billion promised for mitigation and adaptation. This finance should be channelled to food systems action in developing countries, many of which rely on subsistence agriculture as the backbone of their economy.

Ahead of COP27, it’s critical that we accelerate climate solutions that already exist. Though virtually neglected to date, food systems transformation presents many promising opportunities for the climate finance and philanthropic communities – this new report outlines what they are and how to seize them. 

Click here to read the full Untapped Opportunities: Climate Financing for Food Systems Transformation report.