By Audrey Ball
Monsanto shares the goal of advancing sustainability in business and has joined with other corporations, academics, and policymakers in the commitment to build on progress made at the 21st annual United Nations Climate Conference in Paris this past December. Two Monsanto leaders – Gabriela Burian, sustainable agriculture global lead, and Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, global lead for food, nutrition, and health partnerships – attended the Pathways to Impact Conference at Yale to join in cross-sectoral collaboration to scale up sustainability solutions.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), in partnership with the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, hosted the conference, which centered on the theme of Driving Scale and Aligning Value. Exploring how businesses can turn their climate commitments into action and help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals was a central focus, as corporations are widely recognized as the key change-makers for climate and development issues by organizations such as the UN and WBCSD. Half of the 130 attendees came from private companies, and sessions covered a wide range of topics, including the materials marketplace, carbon pricing, risk and decision-making, and food and agriculture, a conversation that Monsanto led.
Burian, co-chair of the WBCSD Climate Smart Agriculture initiative, and Chris Walker, director of WBCSD North America, co-led the forum titled Driving Scale: Food, Agriculture and Commodities, which focused on global food issues and the connection to agriculture. In the session, Yale attendees virtually joined a concurrent meeting at the EAT Forum, an international meeting in Stockholm hosted by the EAT Foundation and WBCSD and attended by over 500 members of the science, government, business and civil society sectors.
Businesses recognize that food-related issues are inextricably entwined with the sustainability challenges we face. The issues of food insecurity, famine, nutrient deficiency, and distribution issues contrast starkly with obesity, over-consumption, food loss and waste. Both ends of the spectrum pose serious threats to health and society. While a child dies from hunger every six seconds, the global weight-loss industry generates close to $200 billion in revenue every year.[i] The EAT Forum met to address this global paradox and to shift food systems toward greater sustainability, health, and equity.
According to Walker, there are three major ecosystems to tackle in order to address climate change and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): climate and energy, cities, and food. Nearly all 17 SDGs touch on food, and the business world is engaging to achieve these goals by examining the entire food chain. From becoming more efficient on the input side to increasing efficiency on the harvest and post-harvest side, Walker believes that changing the food system is imperative and requires engaging stakeholders from farm to landfill.
Agribusiness is highly engaged in sustainability conversations in part due to widespread membership and success of the WBCSD Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) initiative, which is driven by 20 member companies, key strategic partners, and the Director of Forest Solutions and CSA at WBCSD, Matthew Reddy. CSA has three goals: 1) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; 2) adapting and building resilience to climate change; and 3) reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions where possible, all by 2030. While CSA member companies are each committed to aligning their businesses with the vision of climate-smart agriculture, changing current agricultural systems will require combining their efforts and uniting in partnerships.
Much like most climate action plans, the CSA initiative focuses on both adaptation and mitigation. Emissions must be reduced to slow planetary warming, but in the meantime, populations around the world are vulnerable to increased droughts and flooding, and resilience must be built. Building resilience will prove challenging. Five of the six regions most vulnerable to climate-induced productivity losses are in Africa, where major obstacles to technological advancement, policy changes, and infrastructure improvements exist. Meanwhile, developed countries such as the United States will not remain unscathed. Despite the fact that the U.S. sits near the top of the Global Adaptation Index (GAIN) – indicating it has a high ability to adapt to climate change – in the next 5 to 25 years, commodity crop losses could reach 18-24 percent each year due to extreme heat.[ii]
Food is fundamental to CSA, both for the resilience-building needed to lessen potential food insecurity resulting from climate change and the mitigation potentials that food holds. Achieving the third pillar of CSA dedicated to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will mean addressing food waste as a leading source of emissions. Global food wastage emits 3.3 gigatons of CO2, which, if compared to country rankings of top emitters, would be third after China and the U.S.
The collaboration between the EAT Foundation and agriculture through CSA is thus critical and timely. By collaborating with other key actors in the food chain, the CSA working group looks to decrease food waste, while delivering much-needed productivity advancements to end hunger and food insecurity. Food systems can be transformed through creative partnerships and broadened thinking, meaning industries indirectly related to food should also be leveraged. The WBCSD would like to see healthcare companies engage in this food system shift, a logical strategy given the interconnectivity and common goals existing in the food, environment, and health nexus.
Key partnerships are underway through multilateral organizations around the world that increasingly involve business. This year and going forward, business collaboration, driving scale, and aligning value are key to delivering results.
[i] WBCSD-EAT Global Sustainable Food System initiative. Workshop 14 June 2016 @ EAT Forum Key outcomes and next steps Report
[ii] LCTPi CSA Action Plan Report