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No time to waste on biodiversity: Food industry urged to help mitigate loss

May 14, 2019
Food & Drink

The impending world population increase and its predicted impact on the loss of biodiversity will pose significant challenges to the global food industry, putting food security once again in the spotlight. Many of the vital resources and services, which are underpinned by biodiversity, are provided by ecosystems that are facing unprecedented risks as laid out in a recently published hard-hitting UN biodiversity report.

The report underscores the need for an urgent response from the food industry in terms of how it can help mitigate the looming crisis the report predicts – that humans “threaten one million species with extinction” within decades and the devastating impact that could have on food security and natural resources.

Current efforts to conserve the earth’s resources will likely fail without radical action, the report notes.

The rapid onset of climate change has been a hot topic for the food industry with many key players setting ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, cut down on waste, use energy efficiently and streamline strategies to tackle what is a profound challenge with direct implications on food safety, supply chains and raw materials. And now, biodiversity is also one of the key issues being debated following the stark warnings of the UN report.

Unilever welcomes the UN Biodiversity report and advocacy in this space, saying that protecting biodiversity is central to its Sustainable Agriculture Program, which drives the company’s work with suppliers and farmers.

“One of the four principles in our program is: ‘Ensuring any adverse effects on biodiversity from agricultural activities are minimized and positive contributions are made where possible,’” a Unilever spokesperson tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “Biodiversity is also one of the 11 core indicators we use to measure sustainable farming practices,” they note.

Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code has a specific chapter devoted to biodiversity which covers both ecosystem services (the benefits humans derive from the environment e.g. water-use) and the protection of rare and vulnerable species and ecosystems on and around farms.

The British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company is taking action across its value chain, from sourcing renewable energy in its operations to ending deforestation linked to the production of agricultural commodities.

“The Code aims to ensure that our agricultural sourcing activities minimize impacts from land use, or land use change, on biodiversity, natural capital and ecosystem services. Farmers are encouraged to have Biodiversity Action Plans. The third-party certification schemes that we use, including Rainforest Alliance and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, share these aims too,” the spokesperson continues.

“At a policy level, Unilever is advocating for a new global biodiversity framework through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which has been called a “New Deal for Nature.” This pact, expected to be agreed in Beijing in late 2020, will lay out the global strategy for protecting nature through 2030,” the Unilever spokesperson says.

Calling on member states to take “urgent action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” the leaders of more than 30 UN agencies and entities, have issued a formal, joint appeal for governments everywhere to “step up ambition and take concrete action.” The appeal comes ahead of the landmark Climate Action Summit, which is scheduled for September 2019.

“Following the adoption of this historic report, no one will be able to claim that they did not know,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “We can no longer continue to destroy the diversity of life. This is our responsibility towards future generations.

Presented to more than 130 government delegations for their approval at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the report features the work of 400 experts from approximately 50 countries, coordinated by the Bonn-based Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

In addition to providing exhaustive insights on the state of nature, ecosystems and how nature underpins all human activity, the study also discusses progress on key international goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

It also examines five main drivers of “unprecedented” biodiversity and ecosystem change over the past 50 years, identifying them as changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change, pollution, and invasion of alien species.

The report follows last October’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is having a significant impact on the climate change debate worldwide. The study says that a rise of more than 1.5°C is risking the plant’s livability and this could be exceeded by 2030 unless drastic steps are taken now. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.

Crop security threatened long-term
In addition, many crop wild relatives that are needed for long-term food security “lack effective protection,” the report insists, while the status of wild relatives of domesticated mammals and birds “is worsening.”

At the same time, reductions in the diversity of cultivated crops, crop wild relatives and domesticated breeds mean that farming will likely be less resilient against future climate change, pests and pathogens.

“While more food, energy and materials than ever before are now being supplied to people in most places, this is increasingly at the expense of nature’s ability to provide such contributions in the future,” the report states, before adding that “the biosphere, upon which humanity as a whole depends, is declining faster than at any time in human history.”

Seeing as the globalized supply chain plays such an important role when it comes to the protection of biological diversity, the topic will remain in high on the agendas of key industry players. And, they will be watched closely by global consumers increasingly concerned about how food production’s impact on land, air, sea, the people involved in farming communities and the millions of plant and animal species of which we rely on.

By Gaynor Selby

Source: Food Ingredients First

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