In order to reach the point when levels of greenhouse gases start to steadily decline, environmental activist Paul Hawken started project Drawdown. Together with a team of multidisciplinary scientists and specialists, he created a top 100 of the most effective climate solutions. The solutions are scalable, doable and economically viable. And as it turns out, sustainable food producing cities contribute to many of them.
Stopping global warming is possible, with solutions that exist today. To enable cities, policymakers, corporations, investors, communities and engaged citizens to push the right ‘green’ buttons, non-profit organization Project Drawdown compiled a top 100 of the most effective climate solutions. The mission? Reaching Point Drawdown is the point where the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline, thereby stopping catastrophic climate change. as quickly, safely and equitably as possible.
From reducing food waste to shifting agricultural practices: sustainable food producing cities contribute to many substantive solutions that can be found in Drawdown’s top 100.
Reducing food waste – Number 1/100
Roughly a third of the world’s food is never eaten, making land and resources used and greenhouse gases emitted in producing it unnecessary. The 923 million tonnes of food being wasted each year could fill 23 million 40-ton trucks. Bumper-to-bumper, enough to circle the Earth seven times.
By bringing sustainable food production back to (mega)cities, we can close the gap between farm and fork and reduce spillage that occurs along the way. In addition, urban agriculture makes it possible to create circular networks on a city level – like this enterprise does in the Dutch city of Utrecht – enabling both civilians and businesses to make use of each other’s ‘waste’ streams. Also, city governments in thriving food producing hubs are more likely to set food waste targets and create policies that instigate widespread change.
According to project Drawdown, reducing food waste is the most effective solution to combat climate change. If we can reduce food waste by 50 to 70 percent before 2050, and we adopt a more plant-rich diet (see the next point), we can save 10.3 tot 18.8 gigaton of CO2. By wasting less, we also have to produce less, which means less deforestation in order to create space for agriculture. This will lead to a reduction of another 74.9 to 76.9 gigaton. In total, that is 98 times as much as the whole aviation sector emits in one year.
Plant-Rich Diets – Number 3/100
Globally, livestock is responsible for one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter. In addition to the climate impact, eating a plant-rich diet puts a stop to animal cruelty, saves an incredible amount of water, decreases deforestation, prevents a whole range of chronic diseases and boosts people’s overall health and wellbeing.
By growing fresh produce in cities, we put a stop to so-called Food deserts are regions where people have limited access to healthy and fresh food. This may be due to having a low income or having to travel farther to find healthy food options. More info: , enabling hundreds of thousands of people to swap processed meals full of animal products with fruit and veg. In addition, by growing food locally, we reconnect urban dwellers to their food, stimulating them to make healthier plant-rich food choices and eat with the seasons.
As stated by Project Drawdown, eating less animal products is the third best solution for climate change. If 50 to 70 percent of the global population would eat less animal products, we could prevent 43 to 68 gigatons of CO2 emissions before 2050. And because less deforestation is needed for a plant-based diet, yet another 21.8 to 23.5 gigaton of CO2 can be saved.
Tree intercropping – Number 20/100
Tree intercropping – growing a mix of trees and annual crops – is a form of agroforestry. Like all regenerative land-use practices, tree intercropping increases the carbon content of the soil. In addition, by boosting soil health and biodiversity, it enlarges the productivity of the land, reduces erosion and creates habitat for wildlife and pollinators.
Urban food forests
One of the ways we can bring sustainable food production back to (mega)cities, is by creating urban food forests: diverse ecosystems that mimic natural forests. The different layers of a food forest, ranging from tall fruit and nut trees to fruit bearing shrubs and bushes, vines, roots and other ground-hugging plants, offer a variety of fresh, local, organic produce to urban dwellers. In addition, they provide the perfect environment for tree intercropping, and thereby could be an important piece of the climate change puzzle.
Regenerative annual cropping – Number 21/200
For a long time, people and farmers alike believed the world cannot be fed without chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. But in reality, unless the soil is fed, the world cannot be fed. Regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains soil health by restoring its carbon content. In doing so, every year the soil regenerates and becomes more productive. And by not viewing wild species that enter the farm as pests, but as part of the local ecosystem, regenerative farmers create abundance for both people and planet.
Abandoned areas on the outskirts of (mega)cities offer opportunities for climate positive farmers that practice regenerative annual cropping, leading to increased carbon sequestration, water retention and plant resilience. All of which are crucial in a world with more extreme and unpredictable weather.
Project Drawdown estimates that by 2050, regenerative annual cropping could increase to a total of 221-322 million hectares. This would result in a total reduction of 14.5-22.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide (from both sequestration and reduced emissions), making regenerative annual cropping the 21st best climate solution.