Student blog series Part 5

Keeping up the momentum for food systems change following COP26

This blog from Maggie Hamilton is the fifth in a student series. The aim is to share perspectives and reflections while she provides support to Nutrition Connect, and how global conversations around nutrition and food systems connect to her studies and future ahead.

The UN Climate Change Conference of Parties, better known as COP, is convening this week for the 26th time. Statements and declarations from member states and global leaders started on 31 October, and the session concludes on Friday, 12 November after negotiations over climate promises are settled. This second week of COP is the more technical part of the conference, where pen gets put to paper and leaders begin finalizing technicalities like a global carbon credit, timelines for cutting carbon emissions, deforestation details etc.

This year, the second week of COP has also seen a decent amount of protest, especially from young people. Fridays for the Future, led by Greta Thunberg, rallied with tens of thousands of young people in Glasgow this past weekend, chanting “26 years of blah, blah, blah” and “system change, not climate change”. As a young person growing up in the age of overt and catastrophic climate change, it is easy to be skeptical about the effect that conferences like COP have on real actionable change. Despite my cynicism, I know these conversations are necessary, especially on the global scale. I just hope that global leaders do not leave their climate promises behind when they leave Glasgow. 



COP was “born” in 1995, so it’s older than I am. And this year for the first time ever a Food and Climate Declaration was presented by varying levels of government officials that demands integrated food policies focusing on both planet and human health. To join in on the global movement of multifaceted food policies you can sign the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration. Good food policies will solve many of the climate related issues that the food system is responsible for. However, these top-down policy initiatives need to be met with bottom-up solutions, happening on the ground, that are striving to be more inclusive and equitable for all those involved. It is about time the world starts recognizing and grappling with the fact that the way we grow, process and distribute food is not sustainable, healthy or beneficial. Farmworkers are working under inhumane conditions, diet related diseases are on the rise, our soils are screaming for help and at-risk communities are bearing the brunt of wealthier spaces who do not consider that their zest for another dollar negatively impacts so many others down the stream.

Processes involved with food production and consumption span all spokes of the climate change wheel. Our global food system accounts for about one third of all greenhouse gas emissions. The way we grow, process, transport, consume and waste food is extremely problematic. But within the issue lies great opportunity and potential for change. Aptly poised by Dani Nierenberg from Food Tank in a newsletter dispatch from COP26 on Monday Nov 8th “Food is the connector between all of our planetary emergencies. By changing our food system, we not only better nourish our communities but we also drive positive impacts across public health, labor, climate, biodiversity, and more. But we cannot do this alone. We need more partnerships, collaborations, communication, and storytelling to build a better future for all.” Nierenberg’s point on partnerships cannot be stressed enough. Our climate issues, especially the nuanced ones involved with the food system, will not be solved by one sector alone. Civil society alone will not fix global malnutrition. Businesses alone will not assure that laborers within the system are properly compensated. Government alone will not reverse soil degradation and erosion. We need to join hands in the fight against this absolute beast of an issue.

Businesses in particular have a large role to play in changing their behavior to reflect the needs of climate change mitigation. Food and beverage companies are going to need to shift their business models to be more climate and human friendly. Public and private partnerships not only need to be capitalized on but also need to be increasingly utilized to follow through on promises made at COP.



Lastly, Youth leaders from Act4Food Act4Change wrote An open letter to COP26, businesses and policymakers from global youth and allies addressing the five action items we most want to see resulting from the worldwide conference. My personal favorite is asking governments for agricultural subsidies for regenerative and agroecological agriculture practices. Agriculture and land use are huge contributors to GHG emissions, and can also cause other human and environmental harm (e.g. eutrophication of waterways, soil degradation, erosion, flooding, toxin exposure for laborers, reduced nutrient availability). But we also need agriculture to feed our growing population so I have faith that it can evolve from being a big part of the problem to a big part of the solution.

While we as youth are crafting demands, yelling for action and taking to the streets, we also are educating ourselves, choosing ethical careers, voting with our dollar, and involving ourselves in the solutions to the catastrophes we are left to inherit. Food systems issues are complex, and global political processes are complex, but we know what needs to change and we want to be part of actively making those changes. And they’ll probably be slower than we’d like, but these are urgent challenges and we as youth are here to inspire and be part of the action that helps us move forward, faster. We cannot waste any more time and we understand that. It’s time for the leaders of the world, in both governments and corporations, to finally understand it too.