Food Sustainability Index 2021: sustainability challenges for the G20 countries

Food Sustainability Index 2021: sustainability challenges for the G20 countries

July 15, 2021

Food Sustainability Index 2021: sustainability challenges for the G20 countries

In a preview of the fourth edition of the report, the spotlight turns on the responsibilities of the “big players” of the world economy and the opportunities associated with their commitment to sustainability.

A few days after the end of the summit of economy ministers of the G20 countries (Venice, 8-11 July 2021) the Fixing Food 2021: An opportunity for G20 countries to lead the way report was presented during a webinar. The report is the result of a collaboration between experts of the Economist Intelligence Unit EIU and the Barilla Foundation

And the document focuses precisely on the G20 countries.

“With less than 10 years left to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, bold action and strong leadership are needed to make our food systems more sustainable,” the report's authors write, pointing out that if current trends are not substantially changed, most of the 17 goals set for 2030 will not be achieved. 

G20 countries, leading actors

It is no coincidence that the report just presented draws attention to these nations. As described in detail by the experts, the so-called “big players” of the Earth in fact represent over 60% of the world population, 80% of the gross domestic product (GDP), but also 75% of all greenhouse gas emissions and use 60% of the arable land globally. “The challenge for G20 members is to become an example to other countries of how to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals: these nations have both the opportunity and the responsibility to pave the way towards more sustainable food systems,” said Martin Koehring. of the EIU, moderator of the webinar during which the report was officially presented

With this in mind, we cannot forget that “People, Planet and Prosperity” are the three keywords that represent the priorities of the 2021 G20 under the Italian presidency, priorities that cannot ignore the sustainability of food systems and food, with its cross-cutting impact on multiple issues discussed in international meetings. 

Steps forward, but still room for improvement

The final report, with updated and complete data from the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), which covers 78 countries (92% of the global population) in this new version, will be published in November 2021, but in the meantime the document on the G20 countries takes an important, albeit partial, snapshot of the state of the art. 

The FSI results correlate very closely with progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and with the Human Development Index,” said Diana Hindle Fisher, a member of the EIU, who presented the main results of the research on the G20 countries. Among these nations, some of the most virtuous according to the FSI of 2021 are Canada, Japan, Australia, Germany and France, with ranking differences depending on the indicators taken into consideration. 

Ever since its first edition, one of the characteristics of the FSI is to go beyond mere data analysis and to present potential “actions” in order to progress from theory to practice. And the report on the G20 countries is no exception, so much so that for each of the three major pillars of the index (food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges) it proposes a list of actions addressed to the different actors who need to be involved in change: policy makers, business world and civil society.  

Results under the microscope

If we look in detail at the loss and waste of food, the best performances are attributable to Canada, Italy, Germany, Japan and the United States: “In all these countries we note the presence of specific national legislation against food waste,” explained the expert. 

The sustainable agriculture ranking is led by South Korea, Germany, Australia, Canada and Japan, although in most of the G20 countries there are initiatives related to urban agriculture, laws for the right to land, funding for farmers and dedicated research institutions. The fact remains that only half of the G20 countries fully take climate change into account in their agricultural policies. 

Finally, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada recorded the best performances with regard to nutritional challenges. “Almost all countries have programs in place to promote healthy eating, but still too few (only 4) incorporate sustainability into their dietary guidelines,” said Hinder Fischer, also illustrating the differences between nations in terms of the real opportunities to arrive at a sustainable diet. An achievable goal for countries like Australia, Canada or Germany, much more challenging for others such as India or Indonesia.

G20, tipping the scale?

You can’t manage what you can’t measure” said Marta Antonelli, Director of Research for the Barilla Foundation, during the presentation, underlining the importance of a tool like the FSI, which transforms and updates itself over time, becoming more and more inclusive. “We need the joint commitment of the G20 countries to achieve the goal of a real transformation of our food systems,” she added, referring in particular to the report just published. 

The report shows that progress has been made in many of the indicators considered by the FSI, but it also tells us that a lot of work remains to be done and there are many opportunities for improvement,” echoed Barbara Buchner, Global Managing Director of the Climate Policy Initiative. “It is important to convey the message that sustainability challenges can also represent an opportunity for economic growth and new approaches and investments are needed in this respect,” she added. 

The creation of a resilient food system is instead one of the points of that Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder of Food Tank wanted to underline. “We need to rethink our current food systems; not even the G20 countries are immune to shocks that can only be managed with great resilience,” she explained, stressing the importance of learning from one another and collaborating after the experience of the pandemic. “We cannot 'go back to normal', because it was too fragile a normal from many points of view,” she said.

The final opinion of the experts was unanimous: the G20 countries have the opportunity, but also the responsibility, to shift the balance in order to achieve the goal of sustainability.

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