Food, water and energy security will be key themes when stakeholders meet at the UN conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil from June 20–22. The conference comes 20 years on from the original Earth Summit, which saw the first global agreements on climate change and biodiversity and set the framework for collective international action to promote sustainable development.
At a meeting in London yesterday (May 21), organised by the Food and Drink Federation in conjunction with the Forum for the Future, Spelman called for agreement and greater co-ordination of new sustainable development goals (SDGs), which are to be negotiated in New York in advance of the Summit.
“We need the political will and determination to make change out of Rio,” said Spelman. “The goals have to be challenging, precise, but also deliverable.”
The SDGs are related to issues such as poverty reduction, while supporting global growth against a background of pressure on limited natural resources, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. She also called for development, which was sympathetic to the “natural capital” that exists in many parts of the developing world.
“I believe the SDGs are the means to do this,” she said. “I want Rio to [agree] a short, sharp critical declaration with food at its core.” Spelman called for agreement on sustainable intensification – increasing agricultural production while reducing its environmental impact.
“I want Rio+20 to help businesses do more,” said Spelman. “We need to move from examples of best practice to ensure that sustainability is right at the heart of business.” She recognised that government had an important role to play too as an “enabler” of change.
To achieve a sustainable global food supply “the engagement of business is absolutely paramount”, she said. While the need to grow more with less posed enormous challenges, she claimed, it also presented a number of opportunities.
Kraft Foods UK
Nick Bunker, who chaired the meeting, said: “Tricky issues in an ever more complex world will only be solved by looking outwards.” Bunker is president of Kraft Foods UK and chair of the FDF’s sustainability steering group. He called on governments to set the right policy framework to enable food companies to operate on a level regulatory playing field.
Other speakers echoed the huge challenges facing the world. “We can’t continue extracting things out of the Earth without protecting the ecosystems that supply it,” said Tim Benton, professor of ecology at the University of Leeds. He also argued that the issues faced were incredibly complex and questioned the efficacy of many environmental certification schemes. “We haven’t got a clue what sustainability is when it comes to food and agriculture.”
David Norman, director of campaigns for WWF, said: “Habitat loss is leading to all natural resources coming under extreme pressure.”
Dr Sally Uren, deputy chief executive of Forum for the Future, sounded the most pessimistic note: “The food supply system is not sustainable and is not on a course to be sustainable any time soon.”