Interviews · 11min read
Interview with Nusa Urbancic from the Changing Markets Foundation
Take a closer look at the challenges, approaches and goals of the low-carbon food sector transition.
About the Changing Markets Foundation
The Changing Markets Foundation accelerates and scales up solutions to sustainability challenges by leveraging the power of markets. The foundation partners with NGOs, other foundations and research organisations to create and support campaigns that gear the market share away from unsustainable products and brands and towards environmentally and socially beneficial solutions.
About Nusa Urbancic
Nusa Urbancic has worked as the Changing Markets Foundation’s Campaigns Director since 2015. Prior to that she acquired several years of experience in various sectors, including transportation and energy at an EU-level and bioenergy at Greenpeace. Nusa holds a Master of Law - LLM from Birkbeck School of Law, UK.
In the 2018 report Growing the Good, the Changing Markets Foundation highlighted a shocking absence of policies to drive and accelerate low-carbon transition in the food sector. What were the key findings?
Our report highlighted a complete lack of public policies supporting positive consumer and market trends towards diets with less meat and dairy, which are needed to ensure the food sector becomes part of the solution to climate change. This stands in stark contrast with a significant array of measures supporting a low-carbon transition in other sectors, such as energy and transport. Shockingly, instead of encouraging people to eat healthier, more plant-based diets, politicians are succumbing to pressure from meat producers by introducing new legislative measures aiming to restrict market growth for alternatives—such as the French ban on terms like ‘vegan burger’—and continuing to channel a vast amount of public subsidies towards unsustainable agricultural production systems dominated by huge industrial factory farms.
Our report also highlighted the irony that while intensive animal agriculture is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions (16.5%), it is also already badly impacted by climate change, with farmers being forced to cull their animals early due to extreme weather events. This means that change is inevitable, and we argue that it would make more sense for policy-makers to drive the transition towards better and more climate-resilient farming systems.
COP26 marked the launch of the Regen10 initiative, an alliance seeking to work with 500 million farmers worldwide to scale regenerative food production systems. At the same time, farmers scrutinised governments' lack of commitment to the reduction of fossil fuels. It is clear that, while progress is happening, many areas of action are still very far apart. What is the Changing Markets Foundation's take on notions, such as these?
We are in the midst of a climate emergency. We have until 2030—which is less than a decade—to rapidly cut emissions, which will hopefully enable us to stay under 1.5°C of global heating and have a liveable planet. For this reason, we should act as if we are in an emergency. This means rapid phase-out of all fossil fuels and large scale investments into low-carbon renewables (this means we should not be burning biomass) and also a rapid transformation of our food system.
Part of this transformation is the need for more regenerative food production systems, but these must come hand-in-hand with reducing demand for meat and dairy products. People in the Global North, where these reductions should foremost take place, consume more than twice the amount of meat that is considered healthy. Reducing such overconsumption will therefore lead to significant health benefits for individuals and society as a whole.
COP26 has also put the urgency of rapid cuts in methane emissions at the forefront, further highlighting the urgency of measures to reduce livestock production, as this sector contributes 32% of man-made methane emissions.
What concrete suggestions does the Changing Markets Foundation put forward for policymakers to promote low-carbon transition in the food sector?
We are calling for a reduction in consumption of meat and dairy, in line with dietary health guidelines, which should also incorporate sustainability considerations. Governments should create national action plans, which include awareness-raising campaigns, public procurement, promotion of healthy alternatives, and reductions in consumption of meat and dairy products. Reducing the number of animals grown for food and repurposing large sums of public subsidies going towards livestock farming could enable the creation of better farming systems based on agroecological principles.
In addition, we should also pay attention to other farming systems, such as aquaculture, which could be sustainable and low carbon, but should urgently switch to more sustainable feed, as shown in numerous reports we published on this topic.
From biotechnology to carbon sinks and beyond, tell us about some of the most innovative methods currently in place for supporting these transitions.
There are numerous solutions that are market-ready. Plant-based food products are experiencing significant growth—27% increase in retail sales from 2019 to 2020. Innovation in meat alternatives is increasingly driven by the power of cutting-edge computing and biotechnology, which—applied to food technology—could lead to a rapid increase in product quality and a faster-than-expected fall in product prices.
In addition, we have numerous other innovations that are more hidden in the feed space. For example, algal oils could potentially replace fish oil and hopefully resolve a huge problem of the aquaculture industry, which currently consumes around 14% of all wild-caught fish from the oceans in the form of fish meal and fish oil. We have been documenting negative environmental impacts of the damaging practice of fishing for feed for years now, and we really need some leadership in the aquaculture industry to shake off its appetite for wild-caught fish.
In order to sufficiently reduce carbon emission and mitigate climate change, what would the global meat and dairy industry need to look like in 2030?
Much smaller! Our most recent report, Blindspot: How lack of action on livestock methane undermines climate targets, shows that 20 of the biggest meat and dairy companies are huge global corporations with an annual revenue of half a trillion USD—the same level as the annual GDP of Sweden. We need them to invest in solutions to climate change, which also includes scaling down the oversized production of meat and dairy.
Global cattle population has increased by over 50% in the last 60 years, and this has contributed to global warming, including an increase in methane emissions. Animal agriculture also requires over 80% of all agricultural land, which is very inefficient. We need to scale down the number of animals and increase nature areas, such as forests. This will truly help us in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss— two crises that also threaten the future of humanity.
Additional note: In November 2021, the Changing Markets Foundation published the shocking finding that retailers are still failing to address key sustainability concerns in farmed fish supply chains, despite years of warnings. Thus, Europe’s major food retailers and their consumers are directly contributing to the destruction of marine ecosystems and negatively impacting food security and livelihoods of coastal fishing communities, particularly in the global South.
Read the full report here
Imagery: (1) Federico Respini & (3) Etienne Gierardet via unsplash.com, (2) Nusa Urbancic, (4) Changing Markets Foundation