Why the global fight against food waste has only just begun

Our global food systems have a profound impact on human and planetary health. They are responsible for 70 percent of the water extracted from nature, account for up to a third of human-related greenhouse gas emissions, and agriculture has been identified as a threat to 24,000 people. 28,000 species (over 86 percent) at risk of extinction.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Food Waste Index 2021 report, people around the world waste 1 billion tonnes of food every year. A whopping third of all the food produced in the world is lost or wasted. The evidence is becoming too hard to ignore. Food systems reform is essential to address the global crisis of climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, pollution and waste.

UNEP plays a crucial role in the transition to sustainable food systems. He is the custodian of the food waste component of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3, which aims to halve global food waste per capita at retail and consumer level and reduce food loss. along production and supply chains.

In a historic first this week, the UN hosted the first Food Systems Summit, bringing together world leaders to find new ways to produce healthy food for the world’s growing population without harming the planet.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen led the United Nations system-wide working group, established to ensure that the Summit builds on the unique capacities of the United Nations to deliver its agenda. In her remarks, Ms. Andersen underscored UNEP’s commitment to join with other UN agencies to help countries make and implement ambitious commitments to transform our relationship with food – for people. and the planet.

UNEP has also been instrumental in the development of several solution clusters emerging from the Summit process, including the coalitions on “Food never goes to waste” and “Healthy eating from sustainable food systems”.

Ahead of the second International Food Loss and Waste Awareness Day on September 29, we sat down with UNEP food systems expert Clementine O’Connor to discuss the issues – and opportunities – associated with food waste.

UNEP: It seems that food waste as a global problem seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. Is it only now that it is getting the attention it deserves?

Clementine O’Connor (CO): I co-wrote a study called the preparatory study on food waste in the EU 27 for the European Union (EU) in 2010, when the subject was not a political priority or very important in many households. Few countries had measured food waste. There have been a few emerging actions, policies and awareness campaigns, but these were on a fairly small scale – with notable exceptions in the UK and the Netherlands. However, the study’s estimate of 89 million tonnes of food waste in the EU each year has received a lot of attention. The EU has designated 2014 as the European Year against Food Waste. With an increasing amount of research and thanks to international and cross-supply chain partnerships, momentum has been built relentlessly. Today, we have integrated food waste into the SDGs, with target 12.3, which aims to halve global food waste by 2030 and tracks progress through a global index.

UNEP: How is UNEP helping tackle the food waste crisis?

CO: UNEP launched the Think Eat Save global public awareness campaign in 2013, with a dinner at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi for hundreds of ministers and senior officials prepared with perfectly good foods grown by Kenyan farmers but rejected by local people. UK supermarkets due to cosmetic imperfections. UNEP helped create Champions 12.3, a coalition of leaders committed to halving food waste by 2030, and developing the standard for accounting and reporting food loss and waste. The UNEP Food Waste Index report released this year provides a common methodology for measuring food waste and tracking progress on SDG 12.3 and provides new estimates of global food waste based on data collection on the most complete food waste to date. Countries and businesses are adopting a Target – Measure – Act approach, with a few countries already approaching a 25% reduction in household food waste.

The Food Waste Index report has shown that household food waste is a global challenge and supports action in areas that are only just beginning. UNEP is launching regional food waste working groups in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean and West Asia under the GO4SDGs initiative. These working groups will provide technical support and peer-to-peer learning at the regional level, helping 25 countries measure baselines and develop national food waste prevention strategies.

UNEP also helped develop the “Food Never Waste” coalition that emerged from the United Nations Food Systems Summit process and launched last week. With commitments from 12 and more countries, the C40 Cities Group and a diverse group of stakeholders, UNEP, with this coalition of leaders, is helping to connect the dots between global hunger and the three global crises of climate, nature and pollution, and the scale of action in the next eight years.

UNEP: How important is it to quantify the issue of food waste?

CO: The data creates an action case. Previously, consumer food waste was assumed to be a problem for high-income countries – the UNEP Food Waste Index report shows that it is significant in almost all countries that have measured it. Data makes the problem visible. It helps countries identify hot spots, measure the impact of interventions and monitor progress on SDG 12.3, with all the benefits that this entails, from food security to climate change mitigation.

UNEP: To what extent is behavior change necessary to achieve some of these goals?

CO: No one wants to waste food. It is morally wrong in all cultures. Behavioral insights help us identify the reasons food is wasted in our homes and point to the interventions that have the most impact in reversing the trend. We waste an average of 74 kilograms of food at home per person per year. It is more than the average weight of a person. While halving is a major challenge, research shows us ways to make it easy – by adopting high-impact behaviors that are easy to incorporate into existing routines. For example, research from the Australian NGO OzHarvest indicates two such measures. Plan a “Use It Up” meal once a week, use leftover ingredients with adaptable recipes (like samosas, stir-fries or soup) and create a “Eat Me First” shelf in your fridge. , drawing attention to perishables that need to be eaten quickly. Unilever’s research in Canada yielded surprisingly similar results, with recommendations for “Use Day” and “Flexipes”.

UNEP: Many of these recommendations are relatively small steps. But if all these actions were taken, what kind of impact could this have on greenhouse gas emissions or on the achievement of targets?

CO: Food loss and waste is responsible for 8-10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and so reducing food waste is one of the most important ways for all of us to reduce our emissions. greenhouse gas emissions and our contribution to climate change. With collaborative action across supply chains, reducing food waste in the home, a few key behavioral changes on the part of consumers, and policies that prevent food from going to landfill, we can make an impact. huge on the triple planetary crisis, with benefits across the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNEP: Do you see enough signs pointing in the right direction to hope that we can be successful?

CO: Yes. This has been a momentous year – 148 countries have organized food systems dialogues and are currently developing national food systems pathways under the auspices of the United Nations Food Systems Summit. The Food Never Waste Coalition is helping us pull in the same direction globally. UNEP regional working groups will help 25 countries measure baselines and develop national food waste prevention strategies. We will be hosting a webinar on October 7 with international banks, foundations and climate finance mechanisms to show how countries can finance and implement these strategies. There is certainly a long way to go until 2030, but we can do it together.

One Planet Network

UNEP works in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Program (FAO) through the One Planet Network on Programs on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP) – a global commitment to accelerate the transition to sustainable consumption and production. sustainable production in developed and developing countries. Sustainable consumption and production is a stand-alone goal (SDG 12) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and target 12.1 calls for the implementation of the 10YFP. The UNEP Executive Director is a member of Champions 12.3, a high-level coalition dedicated to achieving SDG 12.3.

UN Environment


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