One-third of the food produced worldwide is either lost or wasted according to the United Nations. Yet to meet food demand levels by 2050 based on current trends, global agricultural production will have to increase by 60 percent, relative to 2005 rates.

“Certainly, changing climates affect farmers and their practices. If the timing is less predictable, then that affects what happens in agriculture,” said Martha Brown from the Center of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at UC Santa Cruz, which researches and develops economically and environmentally efficient food systems.

Climate change is both affecting and caused by a myriad of human behaviors, including our food systems. But despite the link between climate change and food supply, agriculture and food security issues were largely neglected prior to the Paris climate accord of 2015.

Icon by Owen Thomas
Icon by Owen Thomas

The environmental impact of food is being addressed on an international level for the first time, yet the U.S. has elected a president who supports eliminating protections. This has meant action is, in many places, being undertaken on a community level, with U.N. frameworks as a guideline.

The Paris Agreement 2015

Part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement was negotiated in the winter of 2015 by almost 200 parties and began in November 2016. Today, 146 of the 197 signatories have ratified the agreement, meaning it has passed in national governments, including the U.S., the EU and China.

The Paris Agreement preamble recognizes “food security,” “food production” and “ecosystems” as a global concern for the first time in the UNFCCC. The agreement aims to regulate the global temperature to reduce the impact of climate change.

Climate change is inextricably linked to farming — our food system is susceptible to global temperature changes, according to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research. Food systems emissions contribute 19-29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

While the Paris Agreement begins to address agriculture and food security issues, Justin Gerdes said these areas are still largely neglected in state-level cooperation.

Gerdes is an independent journalist based in the Bay Area, specializing in energy, the environment and specifically the UNFCCC.  His work has been included in The Guardian, Forbes and The Atlantic.

“We have to make sure that when countries continue to make pledges over the next 10 or 20 years and longer, that agriculture is not forgotten,” Gerdes said. “And that we don’t just focus on the big, obvious target that is the 80 percent of emissions that come from the use of energy but the last, hard part, the 20 percent that come from agriculture and land-use.”

Food on the Local Agenda

Gerdes said local action is a way to address agriculture and food security issues but also for ensuring these issues get on the agenda in the first place.

“We are seeing the rollback of the measures put in place under the Obama administration. But stepping into that void are citizens and policymakers at the subnational level,” Gerdes said. “We are seeing commitment and interest and action by mayors, by governors, by state lawmakers and interested citizen groups to say, ‘If the Trump administration is not going to try to honor the Paris Agreement pledges, then we are going to do it for them.’”

Although President Donald Trump has shown hostility toward the Paris Agreement — claiming it will make the U.S. pay billions and China, Russia and India will pay nothing — it would take at least four years for the U.S. to formally withdraw. Regardless, local communities like Santa Cruz have shown interest in pursuing responsible food policy.

Both food provision and dealing responsibly with waste are addressed by a number of public and private organizations in Santa Cruz.

“We’re a fairly small city and the amount of resources that we use on our general food waste reduction is probably bigger than most cities of our size,” said Mary Simmons, waste reduction program manager for Santa Cruz. “But we feel like it’s an important thing.”

Santa Cruz County is currently considering a number of new food waste programs, Simmons said, including a vessel digestion process for composting food and coordinating with a restaurant food waste facility in Santa Clara.

In Santa Cruz City, the Climate Action Program began in 2007 as a government body that sets goals for the community like increasing bicycle use and monitoring water. The program partnered with UCSC to explore alternative energy sources.

Santa Cruz sustainability and climate action coordinator Tiffany Wise-West said the program was moved from the Planning and Community Development Department to the City Manager’s Department two years ago. She said the move highlights the importance of these issues to Santa Cruz residents.

“Where action is really happening is on the local level,” Wise-West said. “Regardless of the administration we have in place, we are already on the train [toward] a greener future and you can’t stop this train.”