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C40’s Executive Director Mark Watts on how mayors are changing the way we think about food

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post

Citizens in most of the world’s cities might expect their mayor to take responsibility for collecting waste, running public transport, or regulating new development, but they might not consider food to be an issue for urban local government. Yet in October 2015, when Mayor of Milan Giuliano Pisapia called upon his fellow mayors to sign the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, 120 cities from around the world, including London, Mexico City, Quito and Shanghai, chose to join forces in an effort to build sustainable and equitable urban food systems. This incredible show of commitment by mayors is an indication of how critical food production and consumption is becoming to protecting our climate, and the health and well-being of urban citizens.

Historically, efforts on food systems focused mainly on production (largely rural), rather than consumption. As urbanization increases so too will the main source of consumption — cities, and particularly, megacities — and the urgent need for a more comprehensive approach. The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact demonstrates widespread political will at the city level to change our patterns of food production and consumption. The new C40 Food Systems Network aims to build on this momentum and turn these commitments into action on the ground.

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C40’s Executive Director Mark Watts announcing the new Food Systems Network, in partnership with EAT, at the EAT Forum in Stockholm yesterday. Photo by EAT.

At C40 we know that cities are so often the engines of global progress and change, and that mayors within our network and beyond are already providing the leadership needed to create a climate-safe future. Many of our mayors are already tackling food issues as part of their larger climate action plans.

The C40 Food Systems Network will help participating cities find solutions to their most pressing food challenges. Members of the Food Systems Network will share information about new policies that enhance food security; enable local and low-carbon food production and distribution; advance food waste management solutions; and develop food systems options that result in carbon reductions and improved health equity. Fittingly, the Network will be launched during the upcoming EAT Stockholm Food Forum on June 13-15.

According to the international research institute CGIAR, food systems contribute 19%-29% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Concurrently, climate change is impacting both crop production and causing rapid food and cereal-price increases in many regions. As more of the world’s population urbanizes, urban food security is a growing issue, and the impacts of poor diets are a growing legacy of ill-health.

Fortunately, mayors and cities have power over several facets of urban food systems and these have been identified as preliminary areas of focus for the C40 Food Systems Network:

· Food procurement: Moving toward more equitable procurement policies benefit low-income entrepreneurs and local farmers while providing consumers access to healthy food. By reevaluating their procurement rules for school canteens, hospitals, elderly homes, civic buildings, etc. cities can foster more sustainable and healthy diets while promoting local, seasonal and fresh food. These efforts help offset emissions, increase urban food security and reduce the prevalence of non-communicable diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

· Food production: Urban agriculture, in addition to providing for local producers and decreasing food miles, has strong impacts on both mitigating heat island effect and reducing energy needed to cool and heat buildings (through roof and wall gardens). Locally-based food production also helps raise awareness about the benefits of fresh and seasonal food and the disadvantages of food waste. In fact research shows that people who participate or have family members that participate in community gardens were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables at least five times per day than people without a gardening household member. In addition to the health benefits of the farm-to-table concept, a recent report supported by the Swedish Food Administration demonstrates that a processed good may have a “foodprint” up to 20 times higher than its raw origins.

· Food distribution: By developing sustainable food transportation and logistics planning, cities can strengthen a safe and energy efficient municipal public market system, including wholesale markets, climate-smart farmers markets, informal markets, carts and retail shops. The recently released HABITAT III: Zero Draft of the New Urban Agenda underscores the need for an efficient urban food distribution policy, stating that “heavy reliance on distant sources of energy, water, food, and materials has made some cities vulnerable to sudden disruption of supply.”

· Food waste: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that each year, approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted. Not only does this have implications on food security for the almost 800 million people worldwide suffering from hunger and malnutrition, it is a lost economic opportunity. Research by Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in partnership with the New Climate Economy estimates that global consumer food waste costs more than US$400 billion per year — and counting. Cities must take robust action to start reversing this trend. As a start, they have the power to raise awareness about food waste through events and campaigns targeting households and businesses; supporting local actors who save food by facilitating recovery and redistribution for people in need (through food banks, for example); and implementing punctual or city-wide composting circuits and plans to connect with production sites.

We at C40 are thrilled to launch this new network with our partners at EAT and with the commitment of so many of our mayors to work together on these critical issues; through collaboration and local action, mayors have a great opportunity to transform food systems for the long-term benefit of urban citizens.