In 2016, Canada signed the Paris Climate Agreement, committing to net-zero emissions by 2050. Net-zero means emissions would be reduced at the source or absorbed by plants or trees. It also committed to supporting the international goal of limiting global warming by 1.5oC. From wildlife conservation to clean energy solutions, work has been implemented to reach these goals.
But what about the role of food systems in addressing climate change?
In simple terms, food systems refer to the activities related to food production, distribution and consumption. In Canada, most of our food is produced by large-scale farms or is shipped across great distances to reach our plates. And it contributes 30 to 40 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these emissions are from agriculture, energy consumption, and food waste.
In regards to agriculture, various activities emit greenhouse gasses. Fertilizer and manure used to enrich soil emits nitrous oxide. Livestock, such as cattle, create methane. And tilling soil increases carbon dioxide emissions. Our food systems also consume large amounts of energy in the form of fossil fuels to produce and transport food. Likewise, food waste that rots in landfills secretes methane.
So when we talk about fighting climate change, food systems need a seat at the table. They play a critical role in reaching our climate goals. But that is if they are equitable and resilient.
When food systems provide healthy, culturally relevant food to all, offer good (and safe) jobs, and help create strong communities, they are considered equitable. Likewise, food systems are resilient when they can withstand disruptions (e.g. political unrest, supply chain disruptions, and health crises) and continue providing food.
Currently, most Canadian food systems are not equitable.
Since systems of oppression are also rooted in our food systems, many racialized communities are disproportionately affected. Roughly 28 percent of Black and Indigenous households experience food insecurity in comparison to 11 percent for White households.
Equity can also be seen through the lens of land access. Accessing arable land is increasingly difficult for young farmers who want to implement sustainable farming practices. The cost to purchase land is extremely high. Farms cost approximately $2.2 million on average.
On a different note, COVID-19 highlighted the importance of food system resilience and how vulnerable our food systems are. Food production employees were more susceptible to COVID-19 infection. This was especially true for migrant workers who endure unsafe and deplorable working conditions. Outbreaks caused processing plants and farms to close, leaving people out of work. Border closures caused shipment delays. And grocery stores were unable to fill their shelves and feed families.
Both equity and resiliency can be partly addressed by investing in local, sustainable food systems, which in turn support climate goals. And many Canadian organizations are making it happen.
Some organizations are supporting and investing in young local farmers, enabling them to access arable land. These farmers focus on low-carbon, ecological food production and implement practices that minimize emissions. This allows the soil to absorb as much carbon as possible. Other organizations are creating community food programs that are dedicated to supporting marginalized communities and increasing locally sourced foods in climate-friendly ways. Additionally, organizations across the country are creating programs that reduce food waste, decreasing the amount of methane that is emitted into the atmosphere.
However, if it’s business as usual for our food systems, we won’t reach the goals we committed to in the Paris Agreement.
Food systems play a critical role in fighting climate change. That’s why Unite for Change worked with three field experts in food justice and land access to create the Land and Food Justice Fund. This Fund supports over 40 organizations that are connecting programs, farmers, and community leaders across Canada to build resilient, equitable food systems. In addition to supporting land access, food sovereignty, and food justice movements, they address the fundamental issues that underlie food insecurity and unsustainable food systems. In doing so, they are fighting climate change and protecting our planet.
With your support, you can help these organizations continue their critical work. Donate to the Land and Food Justice Fund today. Help transform and strengthen food systems.
This article was written by Lauren Baker, PhD. She has more than 20 years of experience leading cross-sectoral research, policy and advocacy for sustainable food systems in non-profit, academic, business, policy and philanthropic contexts. Lauren is currently the Senior Director of Programs with the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, an alliance of philanthropic foundations working to transform global food systems, and the Chair of the Board for People’s Food Institute.