Urging a just transition to a climate and nature friendly food system

Food systems contribute around a third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, are a major cause of environmental degradation, including the loss of biodiversity and water supplies, and drive socio-economic and health inequalities. Simultaneously climate change threatens the ability of food systems to deliver good food for all. Transforming food systems, from food production to sourcing, consumption to waste, is therefore key to tackling climate change and improving planetary and human health.

Our key activities on food and climate change:

1. Promoting and supporting greener farming

Leadership is needed from Scottish Government to help all farmers cut their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change, while supporting biodiversity and their local communities. It is a big ask and it needs proper advice and support. Key priorities include:

  • protecting and enhancing our soils;
  • matching nutrient need with use (excessive use is currently a major cause of pollution and emissions);
  • maintaining and boosting natural carbon sinks;
  • promoting organic farming, agroecology and agroforestry;
  • maximising animal health; and
  • supporting the success of Rural Land-use Partnerships.

In January 2020, WWF Scotland published a collation of the relevant science on how to get to NetZero by 2045 in Scottish Agriculture. Have a read yourself: Delivering on NetZero

To support innovative conversations on this topic, Nourish and NFUS are currently co-sponsoring an independent inquiry into how Scottish farmers can contribute to limiting further warming to no more than 1.5°C – it is called Farming for 1.5°C.

The current way of supporting Scottish Agriculture is under evaluation. With our partners at SCCS and Scottish Environment Link we are pushing for positive change.

2. Supporting short and fair supply chains

We need policy action to increase resilience and fairness in supply chains and reduce Scotland’s reliance on unsustainable, opaque imports. Covid-19 has shown us how important local food networks are for community resilience.

Scotland is heavily enmeshed in complex, globalised supply chains, trading in huge quantities of cereals, oilseeds, fishmeal, soya and inorganic inputs like fertiliser. This causes serious environmental and social impacts to ecosystems, soil, water and human health. A third of the UK’s fruit and veg supply comes from countries particularly vulnerable to climate change and over half of our fruit and veg comes from countries facing high or extremely high levels of water scarcity.
Trade can undermine local food cultures and tends to disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous and People of Colour negatively. We need to acknowledge and confront how colonial and extractive relationships continue to be at the core of food systems. This is a difficult area that we continue to explore.

To support a resilient Scottish food system, Nourish is pushing for more investment in local growers, processors and retailers with a focus on short supply chains. We believe these chains need to be built on respectful relationships while underlining the utility of ‘small’, a feature of Scottish rural businesses.

3. Amplifying the importance of food in climate change conversations

To highlight the potential of food systems thinking as an international game changer on climate change, Nourish is working with partners across national and local governments, civil society and farmers to place sustainable food and food systems at the centre of COP26 in Glasgow, 2021.

A food systems approach holds the key to tackling the climate and nature emergencies and improving human health by recognising how different problems in food systems, too often considered in silos, are deeply interconnected and mutually reinforcing. The Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration calls for city and regional governments to adopt and implement sustainable integrated food policies to tackle the climate emergency, with co-benefits for biodiversity, health and farmers livelihoods.

As policymakers set ambitious climate change targets it must be remembered that these decisions affect primary food producers, many of whom already struggle to make ends meet in current markets while facing the most disruption to their livelihoods from the climate emergency itself. For COP26, Nourish is working with partners to host a Fork to Farm dialogue, that will provide space for a constructive dialogue on food and climate change between cities and farmers toward a just transition.

4. Campaigning for an Integrated Food Policy for Scotland

Nourish has worked hard with our partners on the Good Food Nation bill to look at food in a more systemic way and realise the right to food. Enshrining the right to food in Scots law is an important tool for ensuring that food is produced and consumed sustainably to protect future generations.

As the Good Food Nation bill is currently on hold due to Covid-19 we are looking at the potential for a National Food Plan. Things are moving fast so sign up to our newsletter to find out more.

5. Promoting better action to tackle food waste

Around a 1/3 of all food is lost or wasted and in Scotland 60% of food waste is from the home – in 2019 that was around 600 000t tonnes! The Scottish Government already has an ambitious target – a 33% reduction in food waste going to landfill by 2025 – but with current measures this target will be missed. Wasting food squanders the energy, nutrients and resources that went in to producing the food.  When food waste ends up in landfill it rots, producing methane gas, one of the most damaging greenhouse gases driving climate change.

Food waste is a key climate change issue in Scotland and around the world. But why should food waste end up in landfill at all? Bringing together a diverse range of stakeholders from across the food landscape, including nurses, landlords, planners, teachers, architects, etc. would help explore new ways of thinking. Some suggestions could include:

  • Requiring everyone to recycle their unavoidable food waste or be challenged and fined;
  • In the rental sector, require landlords to ensure that tenants understand and comply with recycling requirements.

Much more can be done to prevent avoidable food waste through awareness raising, better labelling, mandatory and transparent reporting and smart regulation throughout the supply chain.

We need to question the accepted solution to divert this ‘waste’ to food banks. Tackling the root causes of both food insecurity and waste require more sophisticated solutions.

All unavoidable food waste needs to be processed in environmentally beneficial ways – restoring those resources back to the soil. Reducing food waste or surplus at a commercial level should mostly be driven by the market, but mandatory waste reporting would particularly help with ‘waste’ generated by price-wars and loss-leaders.

Nourish was hopeful of the potential of the Circular Economy bill to boost this conversation but it is currently on hold.

6. Supporting healthy and sustainable consumption across communities

Food producers respond to market signals to decide what and how they grow, so what we choose to eat at school and at work has a lot of influence on creating sustainable food systems. Public procurement is a great stimulus to transform these systems to be environmentally and socially responsible.

Scottish Government and local authorities should engage with the public and their contractors about the health and sustainability of our food consumption patterns. Public kitchens from schools to social care to prisons can lead by example with local and organic plant-based options on all menus. Where animal proteins or seafood is included, it should be sourced from high welfare agroecological production systems.

Healthy and sustainable diets can also be supported through community food hubs. These food hubs can support positive physical and mental health and wellbeing as they provide safe and welcoming spaces for people to connect, share food and learn skills.

What can we do as individuals?

Individual actions together also make a big difference – we all play a crucial role in reducing the emissions and wider social and environmental costs related to our food. To develop conscious choices of how we buy and consume food is not easy and does require commitment. However, your changes will have a high impact on a just transition to a climate and nature friendly food system.

Here are practical steps you can take towards being part of the solution at home, at work, and at play:

  • Reduce and recycle food waste
  • Eat, shop and grow locally
  • Choose organic when you can
  • Eat more veg
  • Eat seasonally
  • Choose high-welfare, Scottish livestock
  • Cook from scratch and avoid processed foods
  • Learn more about your favourite food’s supply chains
  • Learn more about social and environmental justice and food systems
  • Ask your local representatives from councillors to MPs to make the case for sustainable food systems in their spheres of influence
  • Join Nourish Scotland and be part of the movement

Further information