How to feed the planet

By Nigel Purvis and Joshua McBee

It is possible to protect nature and provide nutrition for all. Here’s what the US needs to do to make it happen.

This year, Egypt is ground zero for two of the world’s biggest crises—food and climate. Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat, including from Ukraine. Russian aggression there has worsened the already rising risk of humanitarian catastrophes. Grain prices are now around 17 percent higher than during the Arab Spring in 2011, when food inflation and street protests in Egypt toppled the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.

A recent United Nations report estimates that up to 49 million people are now at risk of falling into famine or famine-like conditions globally, an all-time high. Climate change has exacerbated the present crisis—worsening drought in parts of Africa and the Middle East, and making the kind of heat waves that have killed dozens of people and reduced harvests in India 30 times as likely. In turn, the global food system was found in 2015 to be responsible for 34 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through the production of animal protein, energy use, food waste, and deforestation.

In November, Egypt will host the UN’s annual global climate summit. Egypt has called for nations to produce summit outcomes that simultaneously combat the climate and food emergencies. The United States needs to lead this effort, not only in response to Russian aggression and world hunger but also because for decades climate diplomacy has paid too little attention to the relationship between food and climate. The Biden administration has already taken important steps in this direction. To build on these efforts, the United States should lead a global high-ambition coalition to support a new initiative to alleviate suffering from the food crisis—and to do it in ways that create a global food system that provides nutrition for all, is climate-friendly, and protects nature. How?

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