Under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, the meeting of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development took place from Tuesday, 5 July, to Friday, 15 July 2022. This year, the focus was on “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. One of the emphases was placed on opportunities to advance the 2030 Agenda through more inclusive and sustainable food systems, especially through SDG 15: Life on land.
“No more time to waste, please let us act now.” – Daniel Samuelsson, Youth representative of Sweden.
Consequences of COVID-19 regarding food security
The pandemic proved that the relationship between humans and nature must be reconsidered. Zoonotic diseases are not the sole outcome stemming from our means of production and consumption. COVID-19 strengthened inequalities and the segmentation within society. Restrictions in movements had adverse effects on food production, and in turn supply, the livelihoods of farmers, as well as loss of jobs for workers.
An unsustainable direction?
Dr. Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General, emphasised that our current consumption and production patterns need to be strongly reviewed and evolve toward more sustainable models. Nature is not attributed to the right value. Biodiversity is disregarded in COVID-19 recovery spending. In January 2022, only 37% of countries were aligned with the achievement of their national biodiversity objectives, and 58% presented some but insufficient advancements, highlighted Yuxi Zhang from the Statistics Division of United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).
Nowadays, agriculture remains the major contributor by far to forest loss, with 90% of global deforestation, and species extinction, expressed Ajanta Dey, Managing Director at Nature Environment & Wildlife Society in India, and Yuxi Zhang. As a result of agricultural expansion, the proportion of forests declined from 31.9% to 31.2% between 2000 and 2020. Approximately 40,000 species were reported to be at extinction risk in the coming decades. Nonetheless, unsustainable agricultural practices continue to prevail. Thus, the approach of urging a transformative shift has replaced an incremental change, with a focus on multi-sector and multi-stakeholder collaborations. But in practice, how should we transform current agricultural systems to avoid further biodiversity loss?
Initiatives fostering sustainable transformation
“We all reside inside of nature, nature is our home, nature is the only home we’ll ever know.” – Ralph Chami, Head of Regional Surveillance for Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, International Monetary Fund.
Currently, the natural capital does not have a value, which triggers careless utilisation of it. To bolster a paradigm shift, the right value to nature needs to be assigned, financing gaps must be tackled, and positive incentives must emerge. Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the UNECE, stated that over the last 30 years the protected area space tripled. This status of land must continue to expand as it contributes to impeding the rapid loss of biodiversity, asserted Yuxi Zhang. Furthermore, multiple speakers outlined the fundamentality of decoupling economic growth from environmental and ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss.
“We have to go beyond security into sovereignty” – Ajanta Dey.
Driving a global food systems transformation with a focus on SDG 15 concurs with the achievement of all SDGs. To this end, it is crucial to promote systems thinking, adopt integrated land use plans, tackle inadequate subsidies, revitalise Indigenous and local food systems, and develop inclusive stakeholder approaches. The importance of moving towards circular economy models was also highlighted by the distinguished representatives of Finland, Mexico, Guatemala, Ajanta Dey, and Olga Algayerova. Numerous speakers advocated for the booming of multilateral agreements to enhance the representativity of national interests and promote inclusivity, with the hope that countries adopt measures following the same direction.
Drivers of implementation
“We have to give value to nature, we need information, we need sound data.” – Dr. Bruno Oberle.
With the aim to transform, democratic access to scientific and technical data, and knowledge coupled with cross-discipline science, are overarching enablers. Some others include stable financing, quality education, transparency, capacity building, nature-based policies, and long-term political will.
For a prosperous future to spur holistic approaches, it is essential that young people are incorporated into political processes, pinpointed Daniel Samuelsson. Further, the integration of gender, local communities, and indigenous people will empower communities and strengthen the effectiveness of policy interventions, evoked the representative of the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Communities need to have more control over the means of production to safeguard seeds, lands, forests, water and other natural resources. For instance, promoting genetically modified seeds and crops will only benefit a few monopolistic corporations, and render local communities and smallholder farmers poor and dispossessed, mentioned Wali Haider.
Additionally, many speakers stressed the substantiality of adopting comprehensive and integrated sustainable management programmes for land, such as reforestation, land conservation and restoration programmes. In this light, the Stockholm+50 event led to the release of a policy paper calling for the protection and restoration of all ecosystems by halting environmental destructive practices, expressed Samuel Danielsson. Increasing public awareness of the value of protected areas and ownership of land would strongly contribute to a sustainable transformation, highlighted the representative of Philipines, and Wali Haider, from the Farmer Major Groups, respectively.
To finish, nature is the lifeblood of human life. Thus, it no longer has to be perceived as an externality.
Reporting by David Mingasson, Communication Consultant, SIANI.