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Food and society

Before and after the Expo: from the Milan Protocol to COP21

Food, sustainability and the climate: the major challenges on the horizon.

Throughout 2014, the BCFN Foundation has developed the Milan Protocol to raise awareness among the government, institutions and public opinion on the urgency to act to make the global food system genuinely sustainable. Founded from an idea by the Foundation’s scientific committee, the Protocol has benefited from the opinions of over 500 international experts and received backing from over one hundred organisations and 15,000 people. The three goals the Protocol has set itself are closely linked to the three food paradoxes identified by the BCFN: to promote healthy lifestyles; to boost more sustainable agriculture; and to reduce food waste by 50% by 2020.

The Milan Protocol also inspired the Milan Charter, a proposed global agreement to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, sought by the Italian government as a legacy of Milan Expo 2015 and submitted to Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations.


The six months of Expo 2015 Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life undoubtedly served as a period of great focus on the issues of sustainability for the agri-food system and food consumption. For anyone who wanted to seize this opportunity, it was an occasion to reflect on what and how we eat, a powerful demonstration of the relationship between our societies and economies with food resources and their link with the Planet. However, it was just as important that institutions continued to work on these issues, with broad, ongoing participation in the many debates and discussions taking place in and around the Expo.


On 24 May 2015, a historic document was published: the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, which adopted a stance that mirrored the words of Barack Obama, the President of the United States, in September on climate change: “Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety. Now. Today. And climate change is a trend that affects all trends -- economic trends, security trends. Everything will be impacted. And it becomes more dramatic with each passing year”. If we do not abandon our current course of action, Mr Obama added, “we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair”. The American President’s words were even stronger in a recent speech, calling it madness if anyone, due to their own interests or ignorance, still opposed the adoption of effective policies to combat environmental crises.

Another highly significant event occurred in September. In 2000, 193 United Nations Member States signed up to the commitments of the Millennium Development Goals, with the target of achieving them by 2015. To ensure environmental sustainability was just one of the eight goals. On 25th September, during the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, a new set of 17 goals was adopted, all explicitly focused on sustainability, so much so that they are known as the Sustainable Development Goals and form the nations’ agenda from now until 2030. This paradigm shift will see all the key strategies of the world’s nations converge towards a major general objective: to implement a sustainable development model.

This document also reiterated the crucial role of agri-food systems. While goal 2 is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, the issue of food and how it is produced, distributed and consumed also clearly emerges in the other goals. It was against this backdrop, although still within the Expo, that the Youth Manifesto was launched, which was created by the young BCFN researchers from all five continents. “We are the future politicians, farmers and teachers. We are the future journalists, activists, entrepreneurs and researchers”: the manifesto represents young people’s contribution to the Milan Charter and a proposed new approach to sustainability, which involves all the players in the agri-food chain, for a healthier planet and mankind. On 16 October 2015, as the curtain was closing on the Expo, the Milan Charter, signed in support by one and a half million subjects, including institutions, governments, associations and citizens, was handed to Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. The day before, the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact was signed by mayors from 111 cities around the world, representing 300 million citizens, to enshrine their commitment towards actively promoting policies for the right to healthy and safe food for everyone, for water as a common good and for combating the waste and paradoxes of our century.

The COP21 in Paris therefore came at the end of an extraordinarily busy year of events, debates and discussions among institutions, companies and sectors of the economy. The speeches, strong opinions, appeals and proposals fine tuned over the months before the round of climate negotiations made an important contribution to creating a favourable environment to reach a global climate agreement that could not be put off any longer.

On 12 December 2015, an agreement was finally reached by 195 nations. The agreement has strong political legitimacy and lays down ambitious goals to be achieved, identifying priority sectors for action to control the increase in the average global temperature to “well below 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels and to try to limit the increase in temperature to 1.5°C”.

The outcome of COP21 is vitally important, but it is worth reiterating the leap we have made in recent years in our collective perception, understanding and participation with the major social, environmental and economic issues involved in climate negotiations.

Naturally, the steps being made are the result of the knowledge developed over many years through much analysis, research and theoretical developments. Today, the profile of “food” has generally reached unprecedented levels, but there is still much to do since we also understand the complexity of this issue and its importance for planetary balances.

Consequently, BCFN’s commitment will be even more incisive in the future to increase people’s awareness of the need to make sustainable food choices and to promote the well-being of individual people and the planet, taking into account the people who dedicate their lives to growing and producing food, while increasing the focus on natural resources and the proper appreciation for the food we eat. This effort will focus, in particular, on promoting the contribution of the young people who will inherit this Planet.

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