There was much debate over what should have been the central topic of discussion at this year’s G7 summit in Germany. It was set against a turbulent backdrop that global leaders meet: the war in Ukraine, drought in the Horn of Africa, skyrocketing costs of food and fuel, and a climate emergency that demands action.
We must resist the urge to see these as singular, competing issues. Climate change, energy prices, the food crisis, and conflict are all interdependent, complex systems failures. G7 leaders must acknowledge this and provide concrete and holistic measures to act.
Our organizations, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and the Foundations Platform F20, bring together foundations and philanthropic actors to advocate for a systems approach to creating a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient future. Together, our networks recognize that solutions lie at the place where food, climate, biodiversity, and energy intersect.
For decades, we’ve witnessed the implicit and harmful codependency between industrial models of food and energy. The industrial food system—the churning machine through which we produce, transport, consume, and waste food—has long been predicated on a stable supply of cheap energy to drive seemingly endless growth and abundance.
Oil, coal and gas power the global supply chains that snake around the planet, are used to make the most common agricultural fertilizers, and enable the mass-production of emission-intensive foods like beef and dairy products. They are structurally part of the reason why food systems are responsible for one-third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
The conflict in Ukraine is yet another shock to our already-strained food systems. Ukraine and Russia are both global suppliers of sunflower oil, wheat, barley, and corn. Until recently, Russia was also a major exporter of natural gas, the likes of which has been subject to sanctions and bans in several countries. Warranted as they are, the result is a looming global food shortage that threatens the progress that has already been made.
Responsibility for leadership lies in the hands of the ‘advanced’ economies that met in Germany last weekend — countries that are also responsible for 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In our recent conversation with Dr. Martin Frick, Director of the World Food Programme’s Global Office in Berlin, he compels G7 leaders to tackle these interdependent issues on various timelines. In the immediacy, he calls for humanitarian aid that addresses the acute hunger needs in areas affected by drought and staggered supplies from Ukraine and Russia.
In the medium and long-term, he points to bold investments in small-scale farming and large-scale transformation of food systems. That means moving away from the current system of food production dominated by a handful of big companies. The case for systems transformation has never been clearer: this is the third food price crisis in just over a decade and yet the world’s farmers produce enough food to feed the world 1.5 times.
What should replace it is are more localized food systems that recognize the true environmental and social costs of the food we produce, fairly enumerate farmers, and support resilient, localized, and nutritious food systems in countries around the world—especially those most vulnerable to climate change. These are systems that are also not dependent on energy-intensive inputs, the price of which will only continue to climb.
Rather than searching for ways to sustain a destructive, industrial system that is no longer suitable for today’s world, G7 countries should look to transformed food systems for the answers they need: they must commit to put nature and community first, redirect financial flows to support agroecology and regenerative agriculture, and accelerate research into renewable energy sources. The pathways are available. For example, the Foundations Platform F20 has called upon the G7 to set evidence- and science-based G20 renewable energy power generation targets of 70 per cent by 2030. Only this would provide any credibility to long-term decarbonisation goals such as net-zero emissions by 2050.
Philanthropic foundations have a strategic role to play in this new paradigm. Foundations have the responsibility and privilege of capital to invest, the flexibility to decide on their investment portfolios, and the political influence to pressure governments to take action at the food-energy-climate nexus.
Let’s set the course for a new and better way forward and use the outcomes of these latest G7 talks as a meaningful stepping stone to get there.
Ruth Richardson is the executive director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food. Stefan Schurig is secretary-general of the Foundations Platform F20. They co-host the podcast Accelerating Climate Solutions.