4 Promising Signs of a Climate Re-boot
Only 2 ways to go — straight up or sideways
American country music can be an acquired taste, but there is often wisdom beneath the lyrics. These days, I can’t help thinking of a song by Wynonna Judd that starts, “When you hit rock bottom, you have two ways to go. Straight up or sideways.”
Over the past few years, we have seen countless examples that our climate situation has hit the proverbial rock bottom. A quick scan of this week’s headlines provides all the evidence needed: One Day in America: More than 121,000 Coronavirus cases. Italy in Lockdown amid Europe Covid surge. In most years, hurricane activity would have died down by now. Not in 2020. Denmark to cull 17 million mink after coronavirus mutation found. Cutting greenhouse gases from food production is urgent, scientists say.
In the past, during times of global crisis, the world looked to the United States — the world’s largest democracy, for support, for leadership. But the Trump administration saw the US withdrawing from this role. Recent evidence of this void headlined this week when the US officially left the Paris Agreement. The world is facing multiple, interconnected crises that all demand urgent attention. So where to now? As Wynonna says, we have two options, straight up or sideways.
Four Signs of a Re-boot
As I mentioned in my December post ”Reset and restart!”, the world has been heading towards a reset. The Covid pandemic, I believe, has been the final blow forcing the world to hit CTRL-ALT-DEL on the destructive behaviors that brought us to this point. But I have faith that this great reset has begun. Here are four signs that we are slowly heading straight up.
1.Covid attention & relief
Covid has unleashed a swath of devastation, touching every facet of day-to-day life around the world. Crippling global healthcare, supply chains, livelihoods, and economies, it has taken the lives of more than a million souls and left countless others poorer and sicker than ever before. The FAO estimates that the pandemic could add another 132 million people to the world’s undernourished. But it has also shined a massive spotlight on the fragilities and inequalities in our food systems. Consumers now know first hand the risks of meat-dependent food chains. They have faced empty grocery shelves due to border closures or trade restrictions. They have watched prices increase as a result of low supply due to issues in the food labor force — sick or confined farmers and food processing workers. They have realized the value of the people who keep food systems humming and applauded them as food heroes. The pandemic has also pulled back the veil on the lack of nutrition in modern diets. It sparked home gardens, an interest in plant-based products, and the return to home cooking with such vigor that there were rampant shortages of yeast as people resorted to baking their bread at home. This recognition, of the vulnerability in our most fundamental systems, was amplified in governments as leaders scrambled to address public health, food shortages, and food loss in record time, which leads to the second signal of the re-boot.
2. Policymaker momentum
If they had previously dismissed the alarm bells from food activists before the pandemic, they are certainly listening now. Since the pandemic started, governments have invested trillions in relief and have moved quickly to establish teams and policies to address food system issues. Singapore and the UAE, countries heavily dependent on imported food, have allocated significant funds and support for agri-food innovation. The EU’s aggressive Farm-to-Fork strategy aims to address food sustainability and security. The UN has launched a year-long campaign spotlighting food systems in the run-up to the Food Systems Summit of 2021, where they plan to launch bold action to transform the way the world produces and consumes food. The FAO has just announced the establishment of the Food Coalition, a voluntary multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral alliance supporting innovation to ensure global food access and to increase the resilience and sustainability of agri-food systems. Next year, Italy will helm the G20 Summit and Prime Minister Conte has already indicated that food systems will be among the top priorities. We officially have their attention. While the pandemic has turned up the heat on these issues, we have youth movements to thank for getting the fire started.
3. Young Activists
In this week’s Future Food Circle, our speaker, Mr. David Yeung, the Founder and CEO of Green Monday, pointed out that one of the most active climate change movements today is being led by a 9th grader. Who could have predicted that? Millennials and Generation Z see the crisis unfolding, understand that they will be the ones who bear the brunt, and they are doing something about it. These youth activism groups are not children who can be told to “run along.” They are purpose-driven, focusing on climate change as a justice issue, rather than purely environmental. They are organized, holding coordinated protests, summits, and rallies around the world. And they wield the power of social media, launching effective advocacy campaigns targeting world leaders with data-backed, well-articulated arguments, seen most recently with the #VoteThisCAPDown campaign They have captured the hearts and minds of millions of followers and are harnessing the energy and optimism of the young to push these issues to the top of global agendas.
4. US election
The election process in the US has concluded with former Vice-President Joe Biden as the presumptive winner. In a recent speech, president-elect Biden signaled that among his top priorities is returning the US to the Paris agreement, and he has indicated a willingness to utilize the power of Executive Orders to push this through, if necessary. Leaders around the world are celebrating this historic win, with climate-focused advocates among the most vocal. This election is significant, from a food systems standpoint, for two reasons. The US has long been a leader on the world stage. The influence and political might they carry can have a tremendous impact on the success of these initiatives. In the US’s absence over the past few years, China has taken steps towards more of a leadership role in the fight to address climate change, committing to becoming carbon neutral within four decades. The return of the US could signal a balance of influence from the 2 largest economies. But possibly, more importantly, the US is the 2nd largest global contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to make any real progress towards climate change, we need to correct the trajectory of the United States. The Biden administration has climate change as a core pillar of its agenda and has allocated $1.7 trillion in clean energy investment. While the US cannot simply call ‘do-over’ on the damage the Trump administration has inflicted, it is promising to see such early commitments from the incoming leadership.
We still have a very, very long road ahead, but there are encouraging signs that we have started walking in the right direction. But we are officially out of do-overs. Our time to affect real and lasting change is dwindling and we must continue to educate, advocate, and pull everyone into the conversation.
I remain proud of and energized by the creativity, passion, and dedication I see among our colleagues, allies, and partners around the world. Let’s take advantage of this global re-boot to build back a better world, together.
The Future Food Institute is an international non-governmental organization and the cornerstone of the Future Food Ecosystem, a collection of Research Labs, Partnerships, Initiatives, Platforms, Networks, Entrepreneurial Projects, and Academy programs, that aims to build a more equitable world through enlightening a world-class breed of innovators, boosting entrepreneurial potential, and improving agri-food expertise and tradition.
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