Cities, towns, and regional governments outshine their national counterparts when reducing food emissions. In fact, municipalities are poised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions almost 35 per cent more than countries, say researchers.

The discrepancy can be seen from Canada's East Coast to British Columbia, where cities have worked for years on climate-friendly policies to tackle food waste, encourage plant-based diets and support sustainable food production.

But while food emissions are included in the country’s keystone climate policies, they are not as comprehensive as some municipal plans and have, at times, been stymied by disinformation.

This finding by the research group, Independent Panel of Experts on Food (IPES-Food), comes as 198 countries gather in the United Arab Emirates for the COP28 climate conference. Participants are expected to present their first report on emission reductions since the 2015 Paris Agreement. But the picture looks dire. Earlier this month, the United Nations' environment program warned nations to "deliver more than they promised" to reduce emissions.

Learning from cities and municipalities around the globe about reducing the climate impact of food — which is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions — could provide "a blueprint" for those gains, said Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of IPES-Food. Over 100 countries are expected Friday to sign a declaration spearheaded by the U.A.E. promising to include food systems in their climate goals.

"These policies are quietly working because local governments are addressing climate change with communities together with other challenges that people care about, like healthy diets and supporting local businesses," explained De Schutter, who is also a former U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, and a law professor.

Local governments are successful because they work closely with residents and between departments. This co-operation makes it easier to tailor climate programs and policies to local needs and resources, including food security. More robust emissions and waste monitoring systems are created to reduce inefficiency in the supply chain and bring down food waste, a major source of food-related emissions.

Cities and municipalities are also effective at helping farmers access local markets and encouraging food retailers to shorten their supply chains, which tend to be more resilient when extreme weather and other disasters strike.

Food security is essential to Kristi Peters, a City of Calgary food systems planner. For years, she has been working to make food in the city more accessible, climate-friendly and less vulnerable to climate disasters. Changes have included updating bylaws to encourage the establishment of commercial outdoor and indoor farms and food businesses in the region. It is also now easier for residents to grow their own food or raise chickens.

Cities, towns, and regional governments outshine their national counterparts when reducing food emissions. In fact, municipalities are poised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions almost 35 per cent more than countries, say researchers.

Ensuring cities are more resilient to climate disasters is still one of the biggest challenges, said Peters.

Like most Canadian cities, Calgary relies heavily on imported foods, including produce, grains and meat, she explained. A massive drought, flood, conflict or other disaster in places producing food — notably the U.S. — could dramatically reduce supply or send prices soaring.

But cities have little power over companies that control these supply chains, nor do they have jurisdiction over international borders and transport, Peters noted. Food is technically not one of the city's "core services" either, she said, despite the federal government designating it as a critical piece of municipal infrastructure to be protected in case of emergency. To get around these limits, Peters has focused on bolstering the availability of local foods.

For example, she created a program for farmers to build stands in neighbourhoods throughout the city. With about 30 locations in Calgary now, the program makes it easier for residents to access local foods.

While many specifics of the programs developed by Calgary and other cities around the world can't be replicated at a national level, the IPES-Food report notes that countries should not overlook their contributions. Integrating emissions reductions from food into national climate plans and working with small governments to help them reduce food-linked climate impacts is critical to preventing more severe climate disasters, it concludes.

“It's time for national governments to build on the pioneering work of local governments to transform food systems — drawing down emissions from plate to planet,” De Schutter said.

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I expect Big Ag and other wealthy international corporate interests find municipalities frustrating--there are so many of them, lobbying them is like playing whack-a-mole. Hard to pay attention to them all.