Do we need an IPCC for food?


The first United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), scheduled for September, could be as historic for the transformation of the food system as the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 was for climate change. Rio triggered the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC, which brought together scientists and governments from around the world and dramatically increased consensus and understanding of the gravity of our global climate crisis. Its sixth assessment report, released this year, was its biggest call to action yet: Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying.

While energy takes center stage in climate discussions, a growing number of scientists have shown that food systems are a major contributor to biodiversity loss and climate change. Food systems today are also woefully unequal and unhealthy for humans: Food-related illnesses remain the leading cause of premature death worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic, conflict and climate change are exacerbating hunger: some 900 million people today suffer from food insecurity. Four billion people struggle to access sufficient and healthy food, contributing to a global public health crisis that puts global health at greater risk than the pandemic.

As the human population continues to skyrocket and the climate crisis threatens food production, global action is needed. Is an IPCC for food part of the answer? Write in Science‘s Political forum this week, researchers discuss the potential pros and cons that such a global food panel could bring.

“Science needs to be better integrated into policy and action,” said Fabrice DeClerck, researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT who contributed to the article. While many global organizations prioritize transforming the food system, including One CGIAR and the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health, none have the power to bring together 196 nations like the IPCC. did so to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the 2016 legally binding Paris Agreement.

But acting on food is as urgent as it is on the climate. The achievements of the IPCC have taken decades of long negotiations, and we do not have that luxury for food if we are to meet the 2030 goals. DeClerck and his co-authors suggest that a diverse set of leading groups focused on l The diet could be integrated into a United Nations-style framework to be agile enough to more quickly reach consensus on the main challenges facing food.

Everyone’s knowledge matters

The preparation of the UNFSS has already encountered obstacles. As the authors note, some feel that the UNFSS is too focused on technology or member-driven solutions and excludes many stakeholders, including the roughly 500 million smallholder farmers and low-income consumers in the area. the world who are most at risk of malnutrition and hunger.

For this reason, the authors suggest, we need a knowledge-policy interface that is more inclusive of the myriad of food systems actors.

“We tend to say that scientific knowledge is the only valid knowledge,” said DeClerck, who is also the scientific director of the EAT Forum. “But there is also a lot of indigenous and local knowledge that can be drawn on to create robust assessments of the food system that are more inclusive.”

It is also essential that economics, social and behavioral sciences be part of global food assessments, which are often led by biophysical, nutritional and climate scientists.

The authors propose three key considerations for an IPCC for food. The first is to understand what already exists in terms of expert knowledge, including the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), which an existing and important science-policy interface of the Committee of United Nations on World Food Security (CFS). The second is to understand that “if pluralism, equitable participation and inclusion of various forms of knowledge cannot be ensured, a new platform could do more harm than good”. Finally, effective governance of the food system cannot be based strictly on science, but on an interaction between science and action.

“Promoting a just and sustainable global food system requires commitment, political will and the participation of governments and stakeholders,” the authors state. “The implicit suggestion in many science-policy interface initiatives that synthesizing, assessing and communicating knowledge will strengthen governance per se is flawed and overly simplistic, and it risks distracting attention from policy action. real. “

– This press release was provided by The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture

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