Climate change takes centre stage at the UN Food Systems Summit


More than 150 countries and key stakeholders came together yesterday to commit to transforming food systems, combatting biodiversity loss and tackling global hunger.  

The first ever United Nations Food Systems Summit (FSS) brought together world leaders, members of civil society, youth activists, and representatives from indigenous populations along with donors, academics, and members of the private sector in an ambitious virtual setting.  

Following the most recent IPCC report which outlined a ‘code red’ for humanity and the increased recognition that our global food systems are contributing significantly to the ongoing climate crisis as well as failing to fix problems of global hunger, these issues were pushed to the fore.  

Prior to the summit, the SUN Movement released a call to action which, among other things, urged all those involved in the FSS to ‘put nutrition front and centre’. While the focus on creating climate-friendly and sustainable food systems is no doubt a positive, the linkages between nutritious food systems and climate neutral ones were less prevalent.  

There were mentions in some commitments to increase climate resilient food types, as seen in the speech from the President of Ghana. David Malpas, president of the World Bank, also outlined a move from rice fortification to more diverse and nutritious foods. There was even a promise from Unilever that they will increase plant-based options and look to reduce the sale of meat and dairy products.  

Although conversations about nutrition were scarce, it was mentioned by some of the most high-profile speakers. Antonio Guterres, in his opening remarks said ‘we must build a world where healthy, nutritious food is available to all” and emphasised the need to include nutrition in food systems transformation. During a key pledge in which she committed $922 million to be spent on nutrition over the next five years, Melinda Gates stated “we cannot reach our global goals unless we prioritise nutrition.”  

There were moments of celebration for many of our alliances as we saw the hard-earned results of brilliant advocacy work play out. The first lady of El Salvador committed to government promotion and protection of breastfeeding, which our civil society alliance Nutres have been strongly advocating for. Another high-profile country leader was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh who highlighted the need to focus on “quality food for everyone” in a country where agriculture remains the most important sector. In an early speech, the president of Ghana outlined eight ambitious commitments to improve nutrition and food systems in his country, including emphasis on protecting women and children in agriculture.  

The focus on women and children was high throughout the summit, as was the inclusion of indigenous people. Jacinda Arden, the prime minister of New Zealand, advocated for more inclusive food systems and, throughout the summit, representatives from various indigenous populations were given the floor.  

Another constituency group who was perhaps not prominently, but certainly, featured were the youth. Appearing on videos throughout, youth activists spoke about the kind of future they are to inherit and the need for immediate change. Youth Leader for Nutrition from Malawi Mike Khunga and SUN lead group member Sophie Healy-Thow were both given the chance to deliver interventions. Mike passionately spoke about the need for meaningful youth engagement reminding everyone that “we are not the leaders of tomorrow; we are leading today”. Sophie also emphasised the need for the older generation to “share your seat at the table”. She outlined the youth declaration that has been put together by the hundreds of thousands of young people who have signed the Act4Food Act4Change pledge.  

It was only mentioned a handful of times, but this summit will now be followed by the Nutrition for Growth Summit hosted by the Government of Japan. In her speech, Melinda Gates issued an invitation to all stakeholders to use this momentum to continue to make strong and ambitious pledges to combat global hunger and prioritise nutritious, climate-friendly foods.  

We hope that in December we see even bolder commitments to combatting biodiversity loss and reducing the impact on the climate in our food systems, with a stronger focus on nutrition and sustainable, nutritious choices.