Food systems consist of all the actors and activities involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food products originating from agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food industries, and the economic, societal, social, and natural sectors involved [1].

The concept described above emphasizes the scale and complexity of these systems, which involve the entire food chain and are central to human needs. However, while it is intuitive to consider food systems as essential for human life, it is less immediate to identify the interdependence between climate and food systems.

Food systems, in fact, contribute to about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions [2]. This implies that greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector could prevent the maintenance of the global average temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, as projected by the Paris Climate Agreement [3].

Failing to meet the Paris Agreement would have various effects on food systems, resulting in the shifting of climate zones and transformation of ecosystems [4], increasing pressure on food security, and changes in crop and livestock productivity [5]. Furthermore, failing to meet the agreements would lead to ocean warming, resulting in reduced fishery and aquaculture productivity [6].

The scenario described is incompatible with projections of a global population increase, which is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2050 [7], highlighting the urgency of taking action to protect the environment and human beings. There is a need to transform food systems to ensure that the increase in productivity achieved in recent years of technological development is harnessed for the creation of sustainable and ecological processes, working for the health of people and the surrounding environment.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), provides a new impetus to work on the potential contributions of agriculture to public goods, thus becoming a lever for achieving the entire Agenda 2030. For this to happen, a transformation of food systems as a whole is needed, with interdependent actions [8]. Among these:

Changes in dietary lifestyles towards more sustainable directions (e.g., by reducing meat consumption and food waste). Sustainable and nutrition-sensitive food consumption models should be supported by favourable food environments (HLPE 2017b). Dietary changes and food waste reduction are fundamental elements of the SDG for sustainable consumption and production (Goal 12) and, more generally, of all SDGs [8].

Promotion of inclusive, sustainable, and nutrition-sensitive agricultural production, processing, distribution, and marketing. Sustainable agriculture can create decent jobs, support inclusive growth, improve livelihoods, and adapt to climate change [8]. It must be implemented with context-specific methodologies.

Contribution to mitigating climate change. A concerted response to the challenge of climate change is at the heart of the 2015 Paris Agreement and is critical to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is the third part of the sustainable transformation of food systems. The starting point is the contribution of agriculture and changes in land use to greenhouse gas emissions and the limited capacity of existing agricultural and food system practices to reduce their climate footprint [8].

Renaissance of rural territories. The fourth part of the sustainable food system transformation reflects the extraordinary potential of territorial-based institutions, which can stimulate people’s well-being by providing a range of essential social, economic, and environmental functions and services for the entire society (OECD/FAO/UNCDF 2016) [8]. Effective territorial-level action contributes to the food and nutritional security of rural and urban populations, consistent and shared economic growth, dignified jobs for young people, and the reduction of root causes of frustration and conflict, which can lead to disorder, violence, and forced migrations [9].

The fight against climate change represents an unprecedented challenge for global food systems but also offers an opportunity to redefine our relationship with food, the environment, and society. Addressing these challenges requires joint commitment from individuals, businesses, governments, and international organizations. Only through collective and coordinated actions can we transform food systems into sustainable solutions that ensure the well-being of humanity and the planet for future generations.

Article by Bruna Anzà, Italian Climate Network volunteer


[1] Nguyen, H. Sustainable Food Systems: Concept and Framework (FAO, 2018); https://go.nature.com/3hgKcHP

[2] M. Crippa, E. Solazzo, D. Guizzardi, F. N. Tubiello, A. Leip, Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nature Food (2021), doi:10.1038/s43016-021-00225-9.

[3] M. A. Clark, N. G. G. Domingo, C. Kimberly, S. K. Thakrar, T. David, L. John, I. L. Azevedo, J. D. Hill, Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets. Science (1979). 370, 705–708 (2020).

[4] W. Wang, A. Pijl, P. Tarolli, Future climate-zone shifts are threatening steep-slope agriculture. Nature Food. 3, 193– 196 (2022)

[5] H.-O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, E. S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, IPCC, in Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Eds. (Cambridge University Press. In Press., 2022). https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/

[6] H. E. Froehlich, R. R. Gentry, B. S. Halpern, Global change in marine aquaculture production potential under climate change. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2, 1745–1750 (2018).

[7] R., Sadigov Rapid Growth of the World Population and Its Socioeconomic Results. ScientificWorldJournal. (2022) Mar 23;2022:8110229. doi: 10.1155/2022/8110229. PMID: 35370481; PMCID: PMC8967589.

[8] Caron, P., Ferrero y de Loma-Osorio, G., Nabarro, D. et al. Food systems for sustainable development: proposals for a profound four-part transformation. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 38, 41 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-018-0519-1

[9] S. Mercandalli, B., Losch, Rural Africa in motion. Dynamics and drivers of migration South of the Sahara (2017). FAO and CIRAD, Rome 60 p.

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