On Monday 14th December representatives from governments around the world will meet to launch the Glasgow Declaration on Food and Climate. This initiative, hosted by Nourish Scotland and the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, aims to put food at the heart of the climate and nature debate, and to bring local governments of all shapes and sizes to the table.
COP26 comes to Glasgow in less than a year’s time. It’s the largest international meeting we have ever hosted and the most important global decision point since Paris. And the road from Paris to Glasgow goes through the farm gate.
There is no path to net zero without a transformation in the way we do food. The food system accounts for at least a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions from food waste alone are at least 6% of all emissions – three times greater than all the emissions from air travel. And it’s not just the climate crisis. The food system is the driver of relentless erosion of nature, species extinction and the epidemic of chronic disease. We simply can’t deliver on the Paris agreement without building a fairer, kinder and less wasteful food system, one with people and planet at its heart.
Where national governments are slow to act, cities, regions and local governments are leading the change. For example, the state of Andhra Pradesh is converting to 100% organic farming. Parma is collecting over 90% of its food waste. Copenhagen’s public food is 90% organic. Scotland has adopted a national nitrogen budget. On Ghent’s weekly ‘veggie day’ half the city gives up meat. Quito is taking a whole systems approach to sustainable nutrition for its 2.5 million citizens. Sixty local authorities across the UK – including Glasgow – have signed up as ‘Sustainable Food Places’ and similar networks are emerging worldwide.
Local governments don’t have all the levers for change, but they are key to transforming the way we do food. Not just because they have formal powers – over land use, waste management, licensing, public procurement, support to farmers. Not just because they have powers to borrow and invest (the Local Government Pension Fund in the UK alone manages a fund of £291bn). But because they are trusted.
Trust in local government is consistently higher than in national government. And trust matters when it comes to food. Changing how we eat, how we farm, what we throw away is personal – and we need to trust that this is part of a better future. Local governments are close to the people; they lead by example; and most importantly they are pragmatic. Where national governments set guidelines, local authorities can model healthy sustainable diets through public kitchens. Where national governments tell us to waste less food, local authorities can deliver street level action.
On Monday, Scotland is stepping forward. After a year’s work, Nourish Scotland and IPES-Food are launching the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration. This has been a partnership process from the start, working with the existing regional and global city networks listed on the declaration website.
The Declaration commits signatories to adopting integrated food policies to tackle climate change, and calls on national governments to do likewise. The Scottish Government, along with city representatives from four continents are speaking at the event.
Over the next eleven months, together with our partners we will be encouraging hundreds of cities, states, regions and municipalities to sign the declaration. We will host regional meetings to share learning and explore collective actions. And we will be building momentum for COP26 to make sure that food is on the agenda, and that local governments of all shapes and sizes are at the table.