The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) Presidency of Egypt recently partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO), U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and others to develop the Initiative on Nutrition and Climate Change (I-CAN). The multistakeholder, multisectoral global initiative aims to accelerate transformative action on the nexus of climate change and nutrition.
“Climate and health go together; nutrition is a really important bridge between the two. We need to bring these two worlds together,” Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director at GAIN, tells Food Tank. “Unless you do something about climate, you’re going to be always struggling against the tide when it comes to food and nutrition.”
Hunger is rising globally—the 2022 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World reports that up to 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021, an 18 percent increase from 2019.
The climate crisis exacerbates hunger and malnutrition by threatening the nutritional quality of crops as well as crop productivity, which impacts food prices and calorie intake. According to a 2022 study by Cornell University, a 2°C rise in temperature will increase the prevalence of child stunting in West African countries by 7.4 percentage points, “reversing the progress made on improving nutrition.” And meanwhile, food production contributes to climate change through the release of greenhouse gases and land degradation.
There are economic benefits to investing in the intersection of food, nutrition, and climate. According to the FAO, a shift towards sustainable, climate-resilient, healthy diets would help reduce health and climate change costs by up to US$1.3 trillion.
I-CAN centers on four scaling mechanisms: implementation, action, and support; capacity building, data, and knowledge transfer; policy and strategy; and investments. The partners will focus on solutions that are mutually beneficial across agriculture, climate adaptation, and nutrition.
“We’re trying to bake in the infrastructure for scaling climate and nutrition together,” says Haddad.
This can start with bringing more nutrition organizations into climate conferences—Haddad counted only three at COP27—and bringing more climate organizations to nutrition meetings. Haddad thinks that including more of the private sector and entrepreneurs in these conversations can help to bridge gaps.
“Time’s too short for silos. We need to forget about them,” says Haddad. “I keep meeting people that are basically doing 98 percent of the same things as me, but they’re labeled differently. ”
Haddad emphasizes the need for accountability with initiatives tackling global crises such as climate change, hunger, and malnutrition.
“It’s easy to make commitments, but it’s hard to follow up on them,” says Haddad. Both the climate and nutrition spaces are “a very forgiving, permissive atmosphere when it comes to not fulfilling commitments…we’re still all quite timid about calling out non-performance.”
I-CAN is a roadmap for those already at work. According to Haddad, it provides a beacon to align goals, a flashlight to highlight success, and a mirror to monitor progress.
“I feel like that’s been missing in this space, this infrastructure to help align all the efforts and all the resources. We’ve got lots of little ships, but they’re not forming flotillas, they’re kind of all over the place,” says Haddad.
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Photo courtesy of Jakub Kapusnak, Unsplash