COP28 needs to foster a more informed and responsible approach to consumption.
By Kimberly Carey Coffin, LRQA Supply Chain Assurance Technical Director
COP28 features a number of agenda items concerning food and agriculture this year, highlighting the vital relationship between climate change and sustainable consumption. Among the issues demanding attention is the staggering amount of food waste from farm to fork, a challenge exacerbated by the intricate dance of climate change and its unpredictable impact on agriculture.
COP organisers state that in 2022, nearly a third of the world's food production was lost or wasted, costing trillions and intensifying global hunger. With that vivid image in mind, there is an urgent need to go from discussion to decisive action at COP28 in supporting global supply chains to achieve sustainable consumption and a reduction in food waste.
Climate change has ushered in an era of uncertainty for agriculture, disrupting traditional growing seasons, intensifying extreme weather events and increasing the frequency of unpredictable climate patterns. From prolonged droughts to unseasonable frosts, farmers are grappling with conditions that defy historical norms.
At the farm level, climate uncertainty translates into a myriad of challenges. Erratic weather patterns can lead to crop failures, lower yields, and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases. Farmers face the difficult task of adapting their practices to a shifting climate, often with limited resources. The resulting surplus or damaged produce, often deemed unsuitable for the market, contributes significantly to food waste at the very origin of the supply chain.
This uncertainty not only jeopardises crop yields but also introduces an additional layer of complexity to the management of the entire food supply chain.
Supply chain vulnerability – a ripple effect
The ripple effect of climate-induced challenges extends throughout the food supply chain. Unpredictable weather can disrupt transportation routes, causing delays and spoilage. Quality of raw material inputs also become more variable, which in turn means the potential for increased waste at manufacturers. Distributors and retailers may face difficulties in maintaining consistent inventory levels due to the uncertainty in the availability of fresh produce, which in turn contributes to the discarding of perfectly edible food, perpetuating the cycle of waste from farm to fork.
The unpredictability of climate conditions also influences consumer behaviour. The perception of irregularities in food supply leads to stockpiling and impulse buying, with perishable items discarded due to over-purchasing or fear of spoilage. COP28 needs to foster a more informed and responsible approach to consumption.
An inclusive agricultural community
While data, analytics and wider technology has the potential to mitigate the impact of climate uncertainty on food production and distribution, it also presents challenges. Resources can be optimised and potential challenges can be predicted, meaning farms are more resilient, but the rapid pace of technological advancements may create gaps. There are disparities in the levels of access to technology across farmers and regions, meaning some get left behind. COP28 must address these inequities, emphasising collaborative efforts across the supply chain and inclusive technological solutions that benefit the entire global agricultural community.
Governments and international bodies also have a role to play and must formulate policies that incentivise climate-smart agriculture, ensuring that farmers have the tools and knowledge to adapt to changing conditions. Financial support for sustainable practices and research into resilient crop varieties can pave the way for a more robust and sustainable food system.
From farm to fork, each stage of the supply chain must be fortified against the impacts of an unpredictable climate, and COP28 can be a turning point
Supply chain assurance from food sector specialists
Regardless of location or economic status, members of the food supply chain should be empowered by technology-driven solutions and equipped with climate-resilient agricultural practices, whilst consumers should be educated on the impact of responsible consumption habits. From farm to fork, each stage of the supply chain must be fortified against the impacts of an unpredictable climate, and COP28 can be a turning point where we commit to a resilient, sustainable and waste-free future for the nourishment of generations to come.
In addition to climate-related risks, the food industry is also faced with increasing social responsibility demands, tougher stakeholders and government requirements, rising food safety and traceability scrutiny, plus risks to brand reputation and profitability concerns. LRQA is proud of its work in helping the food industry navigate the new risk landscape and welcomes COP28 as a global voice in raising awareness of the issues.