The contribution of cities to Sustainable Development Goals

The contribution of cities to Sustainable Development Goals

September 30, 2020

The contribution of cities to Sustainable Development Goals

With the right precautions and appropriate changes, cities can become pillars of sustainability in both food and other areas, as explained by the experts of the Barilla Foundation and ASviS.

“Food, cities and sustainability. A strategic theme for the 2030 Agenda” is the title of the publication produced by researchers at the Barilla Foundation together with members of the Goal 2 Working Group of the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development (ASviS) and other internationally renowned experts. 

An opportunity to officially present the document will be provided by the “Food & Cities: how to accelerate a sustainable future?” meeting planned to take place as a virtual event on September 30, 2020 as part of the Sustainable Development Festival organized by ASviS (in Italy and online). “The festival is the biggest Italian initiative planned to raise awareness and mobilize citizens, businesses, associations and institutions on the issues of economic, social and environmental sustainability, and to bring about a cultural and political change that will allow Italy to implement the UN's 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals” says the event website. 

Objectives for cities to pursue

55% percent of the world population now lives in cities and this is expected to rise to 80 percent by 2050. The situation is no different in Italy, with 75% of the population already residing in urban areas and a further increase forecast.

These figures raise not only social issues but environmental and economic ones as well, given that cities produce 80% of global CO2 emissions and 80% of global GDP. 

Recent studies show, however, that cities can transform themselves into real pillars of sustainability and make a fundamental contribution to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which, despite being 17 distinct items of the 2030 Agenda, are actually deeply interconnected and influence each other. A sound and particularly strong connection especially when it comes to food, which is also taken up in the publication “Food, cities and sustainability. A strategic theme for the 2030 Agenda” which takes its cue from Goal 2 of the international agenda and then broadens its analysis to all the others. 

The Italian situation

Italy is one of the biggest agricultural producers in the European Union and exports more than 43 billion euros of food products.  However, the country still faces a number of challenges, including high levels of degradation of agricultural soils (with a soil carbon content of only 1.1% by weight, below the threshold of 1.5% considered at risk of desertification), great pressure on fish resources, high agricultural emissions (2.3 Gg of CO2 equivalent per agricultural hectare), particularly linked to livestock (64%), an average age among farmers that remains high at 57. Finally, levels of food waste per capita (65 kg per year) are still very high and generate costs of more than 15 billion euros a year.

From theory to (good) practice

The COVID-19 pandemic has had numerous impacts on food in cities, exposing the most vulnerable sections of the population (the elderly, the poor and children) to various forms of poverty and food insecurity. Milan, for example, has faced a major increase in requests for food assistance, and has launched aid programs that have supported more than 20,000 people over 15 weeks.  The crisis has therefore shown how cities can play a central role in food governance to provide healthy and sustainable food for all.

The pandemic offers cities a unique opportunity to rethink the ways in which food is produced, transported, distributed, recovered, consumed, and disposed of. Seizing these new opportunities is essential to design effective policies to counter current and future challenges, and to promote healthier diets.

The document accurately describes the modern urban context, the profound link between food and cities and the Urban Food Policy, with an eye to the Italian situation. 

The document also analyzes some important good practice experiences. From the urban agriculture of so-called proximity food system to urban vegetable gardens, from school and collective catering to the fair trade in food and waste, the document highlights the fact that good practices are possible and provides examples that can inspire other towns that want to move towards sustainability. 

Last but not least, the third part of the report focuses on urban food policy for a sustainable city and concludes with 10 recommendations addressed to policy makers. “The multidimensional and multidisciplinary goals pursued by Urban Food Policy have been shown to contribute to the achievement of many - if not all - the Sustainable Development Goals”, write the authors. 

Ten recommendations for policy makers

Below is the list of recommendations made by the publication. 

1. Plan an Urban Food Strategy and Policy.

2. Ensure the right to food. Protect the most vulnerable and reduce inequalities.

3. Design and create a system of sustainable school and public canteens.

4. Build a food culture based on the concept of a varied and healthy diet.

5. Promote product and process innovation.

6. Strengthen the positive connections between the environment and food, particularly by ensuring a multifunctional urban and peri-urban agriculture.

7. Make urban food systems more resilient.

8. Establish fair trade supply chains.

9. Strengthen, democratize and localize food systems planning. 

10. Map local food systems.

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