We must prioritize food and nutrition security – The Irish Times

The Belfast Accord turns 25 next April. From the late 1960s, the solitary voice of John Hume had argued that the context for resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland needed to change: from the narrow terrain of clashing trade unionism and nationalism, to a new context and a whole relationships involving three strands – in Northern Ireland; North/South, between Northern Ireland and the Republic; and east/west, between the British and Irish governments.

The achievement of the agreement, based on these three components, required a strong commitment from the British and Irish governments, illustrated by the leadership of Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. Added to this were Northern Ireland’s leading political leaders, John Hume, David Trimble and Gerry Adams, with the courage and skills to bring their respective constituents with them: “taking risks for peace” described him to the time.

The lessons learned from the agreement may be relevant for the island of Ireland in tackling the current climate crisis and the related issue of food and nutrition security. They relate to the rapidly changing context, internationally and nationally; the need for strong government leadership; and the possibilities for progress if actors beyond government are willing to embrace more substantial change than before.

Internationally, the 2015 Paris Agreement aims to slow the rate of global warming to 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial era. Progress towards this goal is lagging, but the agreement and its follow-up COP climate summits remain critically important.

The 2021 Food Systems Summit, convened by the United Nations to highlight the link between sustainable food systems and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, saw more than 100 countries commit to transforming their food systems.

At the national level, Ireland has gone from being a “laggard” in its climate policy, as then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged in 2018, to legislating for a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030, a step towards achieving net zero emissions. by 2050

The 2022 Ukraine crisis has led to rising food and energy prices, which could contribute to a major humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa in the coming months. A longer-term consequence will be that many countries and regions will give higher priority to their own food and nutrition security and to reducing their dependence on imports from Ukraine and Russia for their food supplies. food, fertilizer and energy.

At the national level, Ireland has gone from being a “laggard” in its climate policy, as then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged in 2018, to legislating for a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030, a step towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050. These goals are among the most ambitious internationally and a major national effort, with huge implications for our economy and way of life, will be needed to achieve them.

These international and national political and legal commitments represent an important change of context. The public is increasingly aware of the urgent need for climate action, given the increased frequency of severe weather events, including the current drought across Europe, and the recent sharp rise in price inflation food and energy.

At the heart of this shift in public awareness should be a simple proposition: ensuring food and nutrition security, alongside environmental sustainability, should have the highest political priority, at international, European and national levels.

It is against this backdrop that the Irish government and key players in climate and agri-food policy must decide how they will work together to achieve Ireland’s 2030 and 2050 targets.

2022 can be a turning point, like in 1950s Europe when post-war fear of hunger underpinned the creation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the emerging European Economic Community. Or the early 1970s, when the science-driven Green Revolution overcame the specter of mass starvation in a number of developing countries.

Learning from these past experiences should contribute to substantial policy redesign, but the application of science and innovation in building sustainable food systems remains of paramount importance.

Today’s international agricultural research agenda differs from that of the Green Revolution, focusing on nature-friendly production, more diverse and resilient agricultural systems, reduced food waste, and health and fertility. soils.

The commitment of the more than 100 countries present at the summit to embark on “national pathways for the transformation of their food system” must be supported by their own investment decisions and by international assistance.

Increased support for local food systems and shorter value chains from producer to consumer should go hand in hand with maintaining an open international trading system.

The increased emphasis on the science of change should be accompanied by attention to the sociology of change. The discourse between agriculture and environmental interests has been divided in recent years

At the European level, the latest CAP reform is allied to the European Green Deal and its linked farm-to-table and biodiversity strategies. Increased attention to Europe’s food and nutrition security should be at the heart of the implementation of these strategies.

The policy framework for Ireland’s transition to a more sustainable food system is set out in Food Vision 2030 (approved by the government in August 2021) and in the agreement on sectoral emissions caps in July 2022.

The central aim of Food Vision 2030 is for Ireland to become an international leader in sustainable food systems by 2030. The agreement that there should be a 25% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2030 is part of a broader view of how the sector can play a positive role in achieving Ireland’s climate goals, including increased carbon capture, on-farm renewable energy and anaerobic digestion.

The challenges related to the implementation of these two government decisions are considerable. More clarity is needed on the scientific path to achieving the emissions target. Teagasc has a key role to play in this area and in promoting behavior change at all stages of the value chain to achieve this. A sustained focus on implementation with a Whole-of-Government/Whole-Sector approach is needed, addressing water quality, ammonia and biodiversity while protecting economic gains.

The increased emphasis on the science of change should be accompanied by attention to the sociology of change. The discourse between agriculture and environmental interests has been divided in recent years. The spirit of this speech should shift from unnecessary antagonisms displayed to a speech based on good science and civility. This would allow for faster and better progress on what should be a shared agri-environment scheme aimed at achieving Ireland’s national climate targets.

Tom Arnold chaired the stakeholder committee that produced Food Vision 2030 and is the Irish Government’s Special Envoy for Food Systems. This article is based on a keynote address at the International Symposium on Climate-Resilient Agri-Environmental Systems taking place in Dublin this week

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