Martina Mifsud was recently chosen by Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) International to represent Malta at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24), hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Katowice, Poland. The following is a presentation she submitted during the event.

Six hundred seventy eight thousand deaths. Annually. This is the effect that detrimental dietary habits are causing in the US alone.

But isn’t there enough food? Isn’t there enough good food? According to EAT Foundation founder Gunhild Stordalen, it is entirely possible to feed 10 billion people in a healthy, perfectly sustainable way. The real question is: is it feasible? We have yet to find the answer.

Food can be seen as the victim, the villain, and possibly, even the hero in our fight against climate change. But food cannot ensure a positive future unless it is primarily thought of as a system, and one that needs major restructuring.

Food connects the health of our planet through numerous synergies, and it is the one way that directly affects everyone, even those who do not want to be involved. It is one very clear and tangible way through which the effects of climate change are transmuted. We need it to live, and we need it to continue living within our planet’s boundaries, as well as keeping to the 1.5˚C goal.

But how do we do this in the most efficient and sustainable way?

The production chain of beef ends up releasing between 16kg and 30kg of carbon dioxide into the environment per 1kg of meat; if the current production and consumption trends continue, global greenhouse gas emissions as a result of animal agriculture will rise by almost 80 per cent by 2050. In contrast, producing 1kg of tofu (or bean curd, a popular food derived from soya) releases only 1kg of carbon dioxide.

Eight hundred kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions occur per cooked meal… and an amount of the food in schools, hospitals, hotels, and countless other places is cooked in vain. This goes directly against the concept of climate action through sustainability. According to Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, around 50 per cent of the food produced by present standards is unsustainable, and we have to eradicate these practices completely if we want to take serious climate action.

Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director of the Cape Verdean Food and Agriculture Organisation agrees, saying that the way we produce, the way we consume, and the way we transform are all unsustainable. And as long as we continue to consume meat, and beef in particular, we will continue to be unsustainable.

We have to structure a system that is not only available to the higher classes, but also to the wider population, and will also serve to end the agony of the 821 million people suffering hunger. How is it possible that hunger is still growing despite increasing development, when we know for a fact that there is enough food for more than the current world population?

The way we produce, the way we consume, and the way we transform are all unsustainable. And as long as we continue to consume meat, and beef in particular, we will continue to be unsustainable

As Stordalen states, it is because there is no scientific consensus. Climate change continues to trigger political conflicts in vulnerable countries, with 54 million people being involuntarily involved.

With climate change, access to pasture and water becomes limited; this accentuates the problem of lack of food and the risk of conflict multiplies. Severe droughts as a result of climate change also directly hinder the availability and accessibility of food, and reverse any progress attained in terms of ending world hunger.

Severe climate variability puts all aspects of food security at risk, namely the amount of food produced, people’s access to it, people’s ability to absorb this food and, ultimately, the safety of the food itself. This is a very grave situation when you consider that on average, 213 million medium- to large-scale climate-related events occur each year.

It has also been shown that the severity of the undernourishment was much higher on people exposed to extreme climate conditions, than on people not experiencing extreme weather.

In essence, our consumption habits are significant contributors to climate change, which in turn is affecting our consumption habits. How’s that for a catch-22?

According to applied climate scientist Dr Katy Richardson, food security depends on four pillars, namely availability, access, stability and utilisation. She also states that climate change has the potential and ability to affect all these pillars.

It affects vulnerability to food insecurity as a result of climate-related problems, with the main aspects being exposure, sensitivity and adaption to climate change. If we alter these three aspects to be independent of climate change, food insecurity should be reduced around the globe. With our current production and consumption practices, we are experiencing unprecedented food vulnerability, which will continue to worsen with a two degree Celsius increase in global temperature.

The solution is obvious. Eating more plants is the single, most important action.

Since the meat industry contributes the highest carbon footprint throughout, it is necessary to lower our consumption of meat, and possibly cease it altogether. Award-winning Lighthouse Activity KEEKS (Climate Efficient School canteens) joined forces with ProVeg (also an award winner), in a collaboration aimed at reducing schools’ carbon footprints. It has shown that up to 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions could be saved by reducing meat and promoting environmentally-friendly practices in kitchens using new technologies.

From its experience in 36 schools with 23,000 students, KEEKS has calculated that the students have the combined potential to reduce their annual carbon footprint by a significant 1,076,400kg, should they choose plant-based lunches once a week on average.

If we adopted this proven-to-be-successful system we would need to educate and take care of farmers as they are the base workers from whom all food is sourced. We should respect their work, and according to Margarita Astralaga, director, Environment and Climate Change Division, International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), we should reward those farmers who are taking the initiative to moving away from climate-harming traditions, and doing things the right way.

We should also avoid discarding produce that is still edible. In the US, 25 per cent of each weekly purchase of food are groceries that are thrown away, and of this 25 per cent, 70 per cent is still edible. This is why the OLIO app (another award winner) was founded, with the aim of uniting people who need food that would otherwise be discarded.

Education is key. Empowerment is crucial. In Gunhild Stordalen’s words: “When food makes history guys, what role do you want to play?”

The author would like to thank YRE International for giving her this opportunity, Audrey Gauci for being there from day one, Kristina Madsen for her patience and much needed help during the week, and her fellow reporters – Lovely from Canada and Wesley from Singapore, without whom it would not have been possible.

To watch the YRE students interviewing Lisa Manley, visit the website below.


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