GEO MATTERS: April 2019 Issue

The second Global Session of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment convened from 9-10 March 2019 at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters, Nairobi, Kenya, on the eve of the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). The Forum focused on the nexus of science, innovation and entrepreneurship for the environment. On 9 March 2019, the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) team hosted three panel discussions on Environmental and Health Impacts of Waste, Energy and Food Systems using messages drawn from the sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6). The latter had a panel of Brett Rierson from World Food Programme (WFP); Andrés Guhl from Universidad de los Andes (Columbia), Lorenzo Giovanni from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Isis Alvarez from the Global Forest Coalition.

The environmental footprint of the global food system is massive: responsible for 19-29 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions; the principal user of fresh water accounting for 70 per cent of withdrawals; is the main driver of biodiversity loss; a major polluter of air, fresh water and seawater, particularly in farming systems that have heavy or poorly managed use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Within this environmental footprint, the consequences of livestock raising are disproportionately large – responsible for about half of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and almost 80 per cent of agricultural land use – a third of all cropland is used to produce feed crops. A whole systems approach is needed to reduce the agri-food system’s environmental impacts and increase its overall efficiency and resilience including action to intensify agriculture sustainably, reduce food losses and greenhouse gas emissions along supply chains, and tackle wasteful consumption patterns including high consumer food waste and overconsumption of animal products.