Blog Post

IFPRI Global Food Policy Report 2022: Accelerating food systems transformation to combat climate change

In 2021, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded the alarm on a looming crisis: Climate change is generating a “code red for humanity” that requires urgent action. Food systems are deeply entwined with this crisis. In many regions, especially in the developing world, climate change has already started to reduce agricultural productivity and disrupt supply chains, putting pressure on livelihoods and threatening to significantly increase hunger and malnutrition, making adaptation efforts crucially important.

In IFPRI’s 2022 Global Food Policy Report, researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute, the Alliance of Bioversity and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the International Water Management Institute, and other partners identify six policy priorities that can—and should—be implemented now. This broad range of recommendations for accelerating food systems transformation holds potential to build resilience and adaptation in developing countries.

Food systems are both impacted by climate change and major contributors to climate change. Recent estimates indicate that food systems contribute more than a third of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions causing climate change, making reducing them essential to any mitigation effort. Moreover, agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU) is currently the only sector with serious potential to become a net emissions sink—pulling more GHGs out of the atmosphere than it emits—through creation and protection of carbon sinks in forests, oceans, and soils.

The UN Food Systems Summit and UNFCCC COP26 meetings of 2021 recognized the importance of food systems for global climate discussions and solutions, marking an important shift to put food systems at the center of global discussions on climate change impacts and solutions. But agriculture and food systems still receive insufficient attention and funding to address the crisis. Only 4% of climate finance is currently directed to AFOLU.

Meeting the challenges of climate change will require a transformation of our food systems—an overhaul that demands major policy reform, substantial investment, and an enabling environment that fosters and embraces innovation. The six policy priorities identified in the report focus on developing countries, many of which are expected to suffer the worst impacts of climate change but have less capacity to support adaptation and sustainable food systems transformation.

Investments in R&D for innovation

Many current technological innovations—including solar power for irrigation pumps and cold storage, genome-editing technologies, and digitization along the value chain—have shown potential to reduce emissions while also raising productivity and, as such, present win-win opportunities in the fight against both hunger and climate change. More investments and adequate incentives are needed to encourage both the adaptation and adoption of these innovations to meet that potential in differing local conditions. But food systems research and development (R&D) remains underfunded, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The report recommends doubling current levels of public funding for agricultural R&D, including $15 billion per year for innovations targeted to benefit sustainable intensification in LMICs.

Improved governance of resources

Food systems transformation entails managing the close links between water, energy, and land use, and the need for mechanisms to wisely manage natural resource use. Integrated landscape management approaches have the potential to boost sustainable resource management, but they are complex, pointing to the need for holistic and inclusive approaches to governance. To motivate all stakeholders to invest in sustainability and participate in resource governance, policymakers must incentivize integrated landscape management, promote the adoption of clean energy sources, work to restore soil quality, strengthen rights for land tenure, and ensure equitable access to water and other natural resources.

Healthier diets and more sustainable production

Malnutrition poses one of the greatest threats to global health. More than 3 billion people (about 40% of the world’s population) cannot afford a nutritionally adequate diet. Making diets healthy, affordable, and accessible is a key priority. To support healthier global diets, the report recommends all countries adopt national food-based dietary guidelines, prioritize R&D for nutrient-rich foods, and support changes in the food environment (such as through appropriate labeling, certifications, and food standards) that nudge consumers toward healthy and sustainable choices.

Stronger value chains

Climate change will affect entire food value chains, from production and harvesting, to processing and transportation, to marketing and consumption. While trade-related GHG emissions should be reduced, open trade promotes efficient resource use and provides an important buffer for value chains. Investments in climate-smart practices throughout value chains are also crucially important to help value chain players adapt to climate change and drastically cut down on food loss and waste. Recommendations include ensuring that non-discriminatory trading rules for agriculture and food are aligned with into climate-smart policies, while investing in low-emissions solutions for safe, efficient storage and transportation along value chains.

Inclusion and social protection

Building resilience and adaptive capacity is paramount for adaptation. Yet many people—including the poor, rural populations, women, and minority groups—remain underserved and limited in their ability to access the benefits of transformative reforms and innovations. Social protection helps poor people better manage risks, including climate risks, and provides them with means to diversify livelihoods to gain resilience. Social protection programs have also been successfully linked to strengthening the productive capacity of the poor and to helping them adopt climate-positive innovations and sustainable practices, serving both objectives for climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

Climate-smart finance

Meeting climate-related goals for food systems could require as much as $350 billion per year by some estimates. Currently available finance is grossly insufficient. Repurposing government support to agricultural sectors, totaling over $600 billion per year worldwide, provides a major opportunity to do away with harmful subsidies and border measures, reorient finance towards R&D in green innovations, provide farmers and other producers with incentives and investment resources to adopt these innovations, and provide consumers with incentives and wherewithal to make sustainable and healthy food choices. In addition, the report recommends creating new financial resources through innovative mechanisms such as publicly backed “green bonds.”

Finally, while it is critical that investments and reforms be widely adopted to deal with the global threat of climate change, solutions must also be tailored to regional, national, and local contexts to balance the objectives of social, environmental, nutrition, and economic goals. For reforms to receive wide support and be durable, they must rest on clear insight about individual and collective benefits and consider the local context of priorities, goals, and trade-offs. Climate goals are still attainable, but only if we start acting now and if we act together.

Johan Swinnen is Director General of IFPRI; Channing Arndt is Director of IFPRI’s Environment and Production Technology Division; Rob Vos is Director of IFPRI’s Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division.