COP26: Climate change and our food systems.

How is our food system impacting climate change?

 Global Food Systems are responsible for approximately 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is the primary driver of deforestation globally. Yet discussions primarily focus on energy, fossil fuels and transport. We will not get to aim of keeping temperatures below 1.5 °C of industrial levels if we continue to ignore the changes that need to be made to our food system.

The intersection between food and climate is huge. Whilst food systems are contributing to climate change, the United Nations estimate approximately 810 million people are living with an insecure food supply, with climate change exacerbating this issue. With the population predicated to hit nine billion by 2050, these matters are only going to get worse.

How is climate change impacting our food system?

Climate change is arguably the biggest threat to human health. The climate crisis is threatening to further widen the existing health inequalities within our world, with those from low-income communities being most at risk. The changing temperatures is affecting air, water, food production and shelter, impacting both food security and food safety.   

What is food security?

Food security refers to all people having access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meet their preferences and dietary needs. It is a fundamental human right. With a growing population and a changing climate, food security is becoming a real problem. Elevated temperatures place stress on already water-scarce regions making it harder to cultivate crops and rear animals. Severe weather can encourage soil erosion due to strong winds, droughts and fires cause mass destruction of our land and, a changing climate can promote spread of pests and diseases. Climate change is threatening every aspect of our food system from production to distribution.

What is food safety? 

As well as food security, climate change affects food safety. It is driving expansion of fungal species, facilitating growth of pests, increasing toxin production and damaging our water supply. Farmers are finding it hard to produce food that is safe and in sufficient quantities to meet growing population. Increasing temperatures can cause heat stress in livestock and increase the likelihood for pathogens to spread. Furthermore, the damage caused by climate change and demand for resources can create conflict within communities. 

As society is failing to meet the nutritional needs of so many, without even considering the exponential growth happening within population, is a climate-friendly plate of food even a possibility?

How do we create a climate-smart food system?

Whilst much of the work needs to be addressed globally, there are things that we can do as individuals to help reduce the pressure on our food systems and in turn, help climate change.


Firstly, this is not telling you to go vegan. Animal products provide an abundance of nutrients for human health which in some cases, you cannot get from plant produce. However, farming animals for meat and dairy does contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. If we all did a bit more to increase the number of plants on our plate, whilst prioritising and limiting the amount of meat we consume – it really will have a huge impact on the environment.


 Most of the worlds food supply comes for just a small number of plants and animal species. Increasing the diversity in diets is not only beneficial for health it is key for the climate as lack of variety is a threat to food security.  


Eating seasonally is a way of eating sustainably.  Fruit and vegetables that are in season require less inputs from fertilisers, light and heat. With that, where possible, eat locally, this helps to support your community.  


Approximately 40% of food produce is wasted. Yet over 800 million people are going to bed without food. Do your best to reuse food – turn excess vegetables into a soup or use them in a curry – just don’t waste.

There are certain apps and companies that are helping to tackle the food waste movement:

–       Too good to go users can buy leftover food from restaurants at a discounted price that would otherwise be thrown away.

–       Olio: a platform for neighbours to share food they no longer want, free of charge

–       Karma: pick up fresh food from restaurants or cafes that would otherwise be thrown away

–       Oddbox: a subscription-based fruit and vegetable delivery service. They use no plastics and all produce comes from local farmers which may otherwise go to waste.


Firstly, make sure you use a re-usable bag to shop – we are all vulnerable to forgetting, but just like you have to remember your mask now – remember your bag! Secondly, look at the fruit and vegetables that are loose and package-free. Question brands and retailers when you see unnecessary plastic still being used.

We can all do our bit to help tackle climate change and in doing so, better our health.

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Melanie Wilkinson

I am a Registered Nutritionist, Nutritional Therapist, Neuroscientist, and former athlete. I specialise in weight management, chronic health conditions, and female and mental health, catering specifically to high-achieving, executive-level individuals navigating a busy lifestyle.