Plate to Planet: Rio+20

Plate to Planet: Rio+20

Entrance to the People's Summit (Cúpula dos Povos) at Rio+20

It’s hard to know what’s on the menu at the Earth Summit (Rio+20) in terms of people’s plates, but food and agriculture, and their critical intersection with global sustainability and equity, are being discussed in interesting and potentially important ways. In an interview for Rio, Carlos Serre of the International Fund for Agricultural Development described the global food situation this way: “…we have a rapidly growing population, rapidly growing incomes, changing consumption patterns, people eating more animal products, vegetables, fruits, oils, and all of this is compounding to a very rapid increase in the total amount of food needed. At the same time, the resources of the world are finite and we’re getting more and more to the limits of what we can do. So this means that it’s getting tighter….”

When asked what’s needed, Serre includes (perhaps surprisingly) addressing over-consumption, including of animal products. He says this:

“There are all sorts of initiatives such as meat-free Mondays, hospitals dealing only with certain types of food… there’s a whole array of interventions. Where we really are challenged is to put this together in a broader way. The world is full of very interesting pilot projects and exploratory efforts and really thinking about the scaling up of what’s working seems to be absolutely critical.”

The World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA) is raising awareness of farmed animal welfare, through advocacy with delegates and street theatre (captured in this video). WSPA also worked with a global coalition of NGOs to create a common understanding of food security and sustainable agriculture prior to Rio+20. Humane Society International’s Guilherme Carvalho is in Rio, too, promoting Meatless Mondays, which has been adopted by many Brazilian cities at the initiative of the Vegetarian Society of Brazil. (Brazil’s first vegan restaurant, Cafe Corbucci, is in Brasilia and run by Brighter Green’s own Simone de Lima, also a professor at the University of Brasilia.

A ‘state of the world environment’ report released by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) for Rio+20 also considers the ecological and climate costs of meat production. Some relevant excerpts follow (with thanks to Ross Miranti for compiling them):

“…Reducing meat consumption in regions where it is relatively high could thus bring a range of environmental benefits (Marlow et al. 2009)…Threats from livestock production to biodiversity are likely to grow as demand for meat and dairy increases, requiring more livestock feed and more water (Thornton 2010). The complex issue of ensuring a sustainable food supply for an expanding human population has been addressed in recent assessments (IAASTD 2009; Molden 2007), along with the biodiversity benefits that can be obtained by balancing food production with the supply of other ecosystem services. Pressures on land, water and biodiversity from agriculture and aquaculture could be reduced in some countries by reducing overconsumption of food, shifting towards diets comprising less meat/fish, and reducing crop losses and food waste (Godfray et al. 2010; WHO 2005).”

Good: and yet, UNEP concludes that real progress has been made on only four of 90 major global objectives set to realize sustainable development. Rio+20 risks being half a loaf for the global environment. But that doesn’t mean important work and perspectives aren’t being shared, both at the official conference and the civil society “People’s Summit.” It’s those we’ll need to take forward and scale up when Rio+20 wraps up, with a plate of sustainable, equitable, climate-friendly food.

Photo courtesy of Jorge Andrade/Flickr