Solving Hunger, Obesity & Climate Change with Good Food Policies

By Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala and Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo

As mayors of cities with proud culinary heritage, we appreciate good food. What we eat, where we eat, and who we eat with are deeply personal decisions that form the heart of our cultural identities. For those of us blessed with the resources to have options on food, we know that our choices affect our own health — but we must also remember that these choices have a huge impact on the health of our planet.

Access to healthy food remains one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. More than 820 million people globally suffer from hunger and malnutrition each day. A large proportion of these people live in regions hit hardest by natural disasters, made more frequent and destructive because of climate change.

At the same time, 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight, resulting in increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer; rising healthcare costs; and millions of premature deaths each year.

Our broken food system is contributing to the climate crisis. In cities, emissions from the food sector account for around 13% of carbon emissions, a figure set to increase by nearly 40% by 2050. One-third of all food produced globally — worth more than $900 billion — is lost or wasted each year. As emissions from producing, consuming and disposing of food goes up, the global climate emergency threatens our capacity to feed the world’s growing — and increasingly urban — population.

The parallel emergencies of climate and health may seem daunting. But for city leaders, they also provide us with an unprecedented opportunity to transform our existing food systems, and benefit people and the planet.

Ensuring access to nutritious and sustainable food and addressing food waste will not only protect the health of our residents, but could also slash greenhouse gas emissions of the food systems by more than 60 percent. On a global scale, it would also help us deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and the emissions reductions that scientists tell us are necessary to prevent climate breakdown.

We know what needs to be done. Eating more fruit and vegetables, and less meat and dairy — could save 11 million lives each year. Switching to a sustainable diet would dramatically cut carbon emissions and support a global population of 10 billion people.

Cities are key to empowering people — to make good food choices for themselves, and for future generations.

Mayors and city leaders have the power to shape policies that foster sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems to help secure the future we want. Where we have purchasing power — in schools, hospitals and other public institutions — city leaders can ensure healthy, sustainable, locally-sourced meals. For our citizens suffering food insecurity, mayors can positively influence the distribution, availability and affordability of food. We can use our influence over food advertisements in public spaces to discourage consumption of ultra-processed foods or those high in fat, sugar and salt. We have a say in land use choices and how food is produced within and beyond our city limits. By limiting wasted food we can — and must — reduce associated emissions.

In cities around the world, we are already taking action.

In 2015, during the World Expo dedicated to ‘Feeding the Planet’, Milan launched the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, a framework for cities to develop healthy and sustainable food systems, now involving over 200 cities worldwide. The city has a comprehensive food policy mandated by the City Council and has reached remarkable results in reducing food waste and increasing the share of healthy and sustainable food provided in over 400 school canteens.

Paris was the first city to create an integrated plan recognizing the importance of food as a central component of how cities tackle the climate crisis. Through this we are already shifting our city’s procurement practices, encouraging climate-friendly dietary choices, combating food waste, and ensuring that vulnerable groups have access to healthy and affordable food. These are all part of an effort to ensure Paris’ food system is nourishing our citizens and the planet.

We — along with mayors of 12 other cities — have committed to transforming our urban food systems. With the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration, we will work to achieve a ‘Planetary Health Diet’ for all by 2030. We will do everything in our power to make healthy, nutritious and low-carbon food accessible for all.

Big challenges require bold solutions. As we seek to prevail over the great difficulties of our time, we must be imaginative, visionary and fearless. In doing so, we can build the future we want. And it will be delicious.

C40 is a leading global network of cities taking bold and ambitious climate action to deliver a healthy, equitable and sustainable future for all.

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