The Future of Food Conference 2022 will explore how agrifood innovation can enable and accelerate the decarbonisation of the EU’s food system. Here we highlight some of the key challenges and solutions that will be discussed at the conference in Brussels on 16 June.
Our current food system is unsustainable. As well as increasing sustainability in the long-term, we face immediate challenges that must be urgently addressed to build resilience.
Extreme weather events and environmental degradation, war and conflict, socio-political transitions, market fluctuations and large-scale public health and animal health events all impact our food system. Unfortunately, these challenges are likely to increase as our climate changes and puts increasing pressure on every part of the food value chain.
The 2021 edition of the Future of Food Conference took place in the wake of the UN Food Systems Summit, taking stock of its outcomes to chart the pathway for the transition towards a more sustainable and inclusive food system. This year, the 2022 edition of the conference will dive deeper into these topics and explore how agrifood innovation can enable and accelerate the decarbonisation of the EU’s food system.
Food systems and climate change – why now?
The IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report found that the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses (AFOLU) sector, on average, accounted for 13-21% of global total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 2010-2019 (1). During the same period, managed and natural terrestrial ecosystems were a carbon sink, absorbing around one third of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (1).
In November 2022, the UNFCCC will convene COP27 to make progress on global climate negotiations. In the past, environmental impacts from agriculture have been the focus of these dialogues, however the conversation is now shifting to the role that food systems innovation can play, providing an opportunity to reduce global GHG emissions and to contribute to a more sustainable future.
The momentum for this is reflected in the latest Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), including submissions from all 191 Parties to the Paris Agreement, showing the importance placed on food production for reducing emissions and adapting to climate change impacts. The adaptation priorities described in NDCs have a high focus on food production and nutrition security, with carbon sequestration in soil or vegetation reported as a key mitigation target. Adaptation actions and economic diversification plans with mitigation co-benefits, reported in the NDCs, include climate-smart agriculture, reducing food waste, vertical farming, nature-based solutions, carbon dioxide capture and storage, and moving to circular economy for better waste management. There are examples of food system innovation in all these areas, but how do we scale up and speed up decarbonisation in Europe to increase the sustainability of our food systems?
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Building food system resilience, together
Increasing the sustainability of our food system and reducing the GHG emissions from the sector is a huge challenge which requires us all to work together. Policy frameworks and interventions such as the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy are helping to drive decarbonisation and increase sustainability, with ambitious sets of objectives. In 2021, as part of its ‘Fit for 55’ package, the European Commission tabled a proposal revising the land use, land-use change and forestry regulation (LULUCF) which introduces a climate neutrality commitment for the land sector by 2035 and negative emissions thereafter.
Meanwhile, it has also launched a Horizon Europe Mission to improve and restore soil in Europe, with an ambition to reach 100% of healthy soils by 2050. To meet these targets, we need to increase the scale and speed of transformation of European agriculture, fostering the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices and solutions. This process will increase sustainability, however, during this transition, our food systems remain susceptible to disruptive events.
The war in Ukraine threatens food security at global level, as well as exposing drivers of fragility for the EU agrifood sector, such as our dependency on imported fossil fuels, fertilisers and animal feed from the region. Furthermore, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the growing risk of EU overdependency on global supply chains for key goods and technologies produced by third countries. Potential disruption of supply chains can harm EU economy and society. All of this adds to the existing pressure that climate change puts on our food production systems, and requires us to continually mitigate and adapt to changes.
As specified in the Communication on Food Security of the European Commission, the mitigation of the immediate impacts of the crises must not sacrifice the concrete long-term commitment to increase the overall resilience of our food system, as food security will ultimately depend on the sustainability of the food system.
We need to increase the overall resilience of our food system, as well as develop methods for coping with more immediate challenges we are facing today.
The Future of Food Conference
EIT Food is working with stakeholders across the food system to create and support innovative solutions which reduce the impact of food systems on climate change and the environment and increase the resilience and autonomy of the agrifood sector. The Future of Food Conference therefore focusses dialogue on the following food system themes:
- Sustainable agriculture: climate smart farming (including discussion on the recently published Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU report) and regenerative agriculture to produce more sustainable and nutrient food.
- Protein diversification: increasing the diversification of protein production and consumption, by developing a portfolio of alternative proteins tailored to the needs of consumers.
- Inclusive systems innovation: actively involving consumers and young people, including ensuring we attract young people to careers in the food system, is vital to accelerate the transformation to a future-fit food system.
To meet our climate goals, investment in innovations and solutions, and support for a just transition to net zero for all is needed. Together, we need to define priorities, as well as agree transition pathways. These conversations need to involve stakeholders from across the agrifood value chain. Policymakers, producers, consumers, innovators and industry - we all have a role to play in ensuring a faster and stronger uptake of solutions to accelerate and scale food systems transformation across the EU.
To find out more from leading European food system stakeholders, register here for the Future of Food Conference 2022, taking place in Brussels on 16 June 2022.
- IPCC: Sixth Assessment Report