Food production is one of the largest drivers of climate change and environmental degradation. Current diets are contributing to a rising burden of diet-related chronic diseases. To address these intertwined issues, there is an urgent need to transition to sustainable and nourishing dietary patterns. Addressing food production through increasing efficiencies or transitioning to nature-positive food production is necessary but insufficient. It is impossible to meet the 1.5 degrees goal without widespread dietary change.
Therefore, consumption patterns must shift to deliver food and nutrition security, protect biodiversity, and ensure a livable climate for a growing population. To achieve this, healthy and sustainable food must be made more accessible, available, and affordable for all by governments and the private sector. Additionally, COP27 must address a comprehensive food systems transformation, including a focus on healthy and sustainable diets.
Youth have spoken
Bringing young people who share expertise and passion for food systems transformation together was an impactful outcome of the U.N. Food Systems Summit in 2021. The end of the summit has not brought an end to our collaboration. On the contrary – our work is just getting started. Over the coming years, we will draw on the many new bonds formed between young food systems advocates to ensure that commitments made in 2021 translate into measurable action and positive outcomes on the ground.
The first step toward doing that is reemphasizing the top priority of youth regarding food systems transformation. Over 160,000 young people from across the globe have engaged in consultation processes as part of the U.N. Food Systems Summit and the Act4Food, Act4Change movement. What came out, loud and clear, is that the top priority of youth is for everyone, globally, to have access to healthy and sustainable diets.
Many young people are already acting upon this priority in their own lives and communities. Countless youth have changed their own diets and founded health and sustainability-oriented organizations, student groups, and startups.
Young people engaged in the UN Food Systems Summit agree on three key principles for healthy and sustainable diets.
Three principles for healthy and sustainable diets
First, populations that consume more than the recommended healthy levels of animal-sourced foods (ASF) need to decrease their intake. However, nutritious ASF consumption should increase among nutritionally vulnerable groups, particularly infants and children in low-income settings.
Second, healthy and sustainable diets should be diverse, thereby supporting both human and agricultural biodiversity, and contain minimal quantities of ultra-processed foods and foods high in unhealthy fats, salt, and sugars.
Third, all foods in the diet should be produced regeneratively and humanely (our definitions of which are explained in Demand 3 below) in line with the latest evidence for sustainable agriculture.
These principles should be adapted to regional and cultural contexts while supporting smallholder farmers and indigenous populations.
The top priority of youth is for everyone, globally, to have access to healthy and sustainable diets.
Looking ahead to critical global events – such as Biodiversity COP 15 and Climate COP 27 – we call on the parties to incorporate food systems and healthy and sustainable diets as key topics into the outcomes of the negotiations, their programming, and operational sustainability strategies, and we call for businesses to act on the following items:
1. Developing a global approach to action and measuring progress on the implementation of healthy, sustainable diets
We call on COP27 specifically to:
- Dedicate a "Food Day" in the official COP program to strengthen the urgent required food systems transformation, with healthy and sustainable diets as a core focus
- Encourage member states to include healthy and sustainable diets in their Nationally Determined Contributions
- Establish a workstream of the future program of Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), or its successor, focused on healthy and sustainable diets
- Ensure catering at COP27 and future UNFCCC events provide meals in line with the three principles for healthy and sustainable diets outlined above. COP26 developed first steps toward this goal, which we applaud. Yet, the measures at COP26 did not go far enough to address key issues such as the over-consumption of meat and dairy. In this regard, we ask for all future events to adopt commitments in line with a 1.5 C degree goal.
2. Governments and the private sector should support, including through repurposing agricultural subsidies, the production of healthy foods via locally relevant, evidence-based approaches that improve resource efficiency, including regenerative, nature-positive, and agroecological production practices*,
3. Governments and businesses should include commitments and strategies on healthy, sustainable diets at the heart of 1.5 C degree climate and nature decisions;
4. Governments, businesses and academia should adopt frameworks that use true cost accounting of food and measure agricultural success according to quality (healthy foods produced), not only quantity (the calories and yield) of food;
5. Governments and businesses should invest in and accelerate the adoption of future foods** while ensuring A) a just transition for affected sectors B) that their benefits reach disadvantaged populations and workers and C) ambitious sectoral health and environmental standards.
Including healthy, sustainable diets in climate and nature commitments is crucial to enable the implementation of needed policy measures, including the redesign of food environments so that advertising, nudging and behavioral strategies enable, incentivize and empower consumers to make healthy and sustainable food choices, and the reshaping of dietary guidelines and food procurement to incorporate sustainability and making such diets more available and affordable. Adopting true cost accounting frameworks would enable a much-needed subsidy shift away from systems that damage human and planetary health to those that maintain and restore it.
Young people understand the importance of healthy and sustainable diets for the health of people and the planet. We have taken action for healthy, sustainable diets and will continue to do so.
We now call on you to do the same - and look forward to collaborating with you in this work.
Youth Sustainable Diets Campaign Committee
* for example, through practices including agroforestry, silvopastoralism, cover crops, rotational grazing, intercropping, reduction of synthetic fertilizer, and others that improve resource efficiency, strengthen resilience, and secure social equity
** Here we include both novel foods, including alternative proteins, and traditional plant-based foods. For further details see Parodi, A., Leip, A., De Boer, I.J.M. et al. The potential of future foods for sustainable and healthy diets. Nat Sustain 1, 782–789 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0189-7 and Tzachor, A., Richards, C.E. & Holt, L. Future foods for risk-resilient diets. Nat Food 2, 326–329 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00269-x
The full list of signatories is available here