Fixing our food system as a cure for our planet

top picture


14 May, 2020


WBCSD insights



Alain Vidal

Considering the interactions between Earth systems, two main observations can be made. First, the “safe operating space” is smaller than initially thought. The large green rectangle shrinks to a mere green triangle. This is not only as if we were swept away on “The Raft of the Medusa”, but as if the island we wanted to retrieve had become smaller. Second and most importantly, fixing the food system could be the most effective pathway to navigate the planet to or close to a safe operating space. Keep in mind the raft.  

To navigate closer to a safe operating space, the focus should not be on solutions to only mitigate GHG emissions. In fact, these would bring us away from a “safe operating space”. On the contrary, aiming for a more sustainable food system we help us reach firm ground. 

“Fixing our food system” has been the mission of our FReSH project since its launch in 2017. Amongst the debates we have had over the years with our members and partners, proteins have been at the heart of the debate. This is firstly because proteins are the food element that impacts the environment most per calorie of food produced. It is also because any discussion on proteins between business, scientists and civil society, tends to end up with entrenched positions. With on the one hand those for whom the transition called upon by groups such as EAT, moving from animal to plant-based proteins, is felt as a threat to livestock farmers, meat-eaters and subsequently their business; and on the other hand those who see a massive opportunity to develop a new business around plant-based or other (e.g. insects, algae) novel proteins.  

As I wrote here a few months ago, “science and business must work closely together as partners on our environmental challenges”. Hence, the FReSH project partnered with science partners (EAT and FABLE) and combined their modeling with quantified industry insights to develop a protein pathways white paper that was launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2020 to guide the transformation of the protein sector.  

This white paper identifies the most promising solution spaces for the proteins sector, and beyond, for the entire food system. These would significantly help reduce GHG emissions as well as nature degradation. And even, go further than today’s commonly agreed 2030 “apex targets” for climate and nature.  

The figures show the potential impact of those business solution spaces, with potential to: 

Furthermore, this table lists the most significant solution spaces for business and their potential for reducing the sector’s GHG emissions and increasing the land area that could support biodiversity conservation.