New York

25 September 2019

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at the event Countdown to 2030: Transforming our Food Systems to Achieve the SDGs [as delivered]

Your Excellency Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly,
Your Excellency Mr. Neven Mimica, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this event during the High-level Week of the UN General Assembly.

I welcome this focus on the role of food systems in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

I would like to thank the governments of Ireland and Norway, the World Economic Forum and the leadership of FAO, IFAD and WFP for convening this timely event. 

While there has been some progress since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year. This means that since 2015, our collective drive to end hunger and malnutrition has actually been going in reverse.

To meet the SDGs in the next decade, we urgently need to chart a new course and raise our ambition. Transforming food systems is our opportunity to make this a reality.

Food connects people, economies and our natural environment. 

Sustainable food systems are a web of connections beginning with seeds and soil, through production, to what’s on our plate and how we deal with food waste.

It is through making these systems sustainable that we can grow our economies, advance health, and drive prosperity while safeguarding our planet.

But we also know that food systems can have negative consequences on the environment.  The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted that 25 and 30% of total Greenhouse Gas emissions are attributable to food systems.

In addition, food systems often reinforce existing inequalities. Despite living in an age of unprecedented wealth, where we produce more than enough food for everyone, poverty, hunger and malnutrition remain widespread.

Food waste is a further challenge.  One-third of all food is either lost or wasted.

Three-quarters of the world’s 820 million hungry people are in rural areas, many of them women and marginalized populations, and the majority relying on food production and the food economy for their livelihoods.

As a result, addressing poverty and hunger requires that the transformation of food systems is also inclusive.

Fortunately, solutions already exist to change unsustainable patterns in a way that enhances economic growth and opportunities for all, while also safeguarding global ecosystems.

Some of them were presented at the Climate Action Summit on Monday. For example, 19 companies with combined annual revenues of more than 500 billion US dollars launched the "One Planet Business for Biodiversity" initiative.
Globally significant companies such as Danone, Kellogg, Mars, and Nestlé spearheaded commitments to shift their business operations towards biodiversity protection and enhancement.

These companies will publicly announce concrete commitments and targets in 2020, which will focus on boosting regenerative farming and identifying actions to eliminate deforestation -- reversing common, damaging deforestation trends by food companies.

Many solutions are also simple and accessible but have yet to be developed. For example, I believe that we need an app enables us to scan all of our food products to learn about their origin, how they reached the store and also how best to recycle the packaging they come in.

Think about a chocolate bar – imagine if you could scan it and learn how far it travelled to reach you, whether that form of transit was low emission, whether the source of the chocolate was from a deforested region and whether its packaging was compostable or reusable.

If you knew all of this, you would hold so much more decision-making power in your hands. That is what a circular economy and sustainable food system looks like.

We need these innovations. Urgently and at scale. I hope all present here today will take the lead in making bold commitments and designing the solutions that we badly need.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased that we will have the chance to hear from the Co-Chair of the Global Sustainable Development Report, which identifies food systems as an entry point to accelerate the world-wide transition to a more sustainable trajectory.

This Report, along with the Secretary-General’s Progress Report, provide a clear path of actions to transform our societies. My colleagues on this panel share in this commitment and are already developing new partnerships to accelerate this work.

At this General Assembly High-level Week we have highlighted the interconnected issues of health, financing, climate and small islands—all closely linked to food systems.

It is here where we must kickstart a new phase of SDG implementation: a Decade of Action, where leaders from all sectors step up efforts to transform our food systems as a smart investment in our future.

It is clear we must move much faster.  I look forward to working with you in this vital endeavour.

Thank you.