Cities nurturing local food systems to fight climate change

Edited on 10/04/2024

As COP28 had an unprecedented focus on the role of food systems, we look back at how URBACT cities helped put the issue on the table. 

At COP28, the first global stocktake on efforts to reduce GHG emissions was submitted. The conclusions, reached on 13 December 2023, place an unprecedented focus on the adaptation and transformation of our agricultural and food systems in response to climate change.


In light of this milestone, we want to re-visit an article from 2021 on urban local food systems and the URBACT cities and networks working together to fight climate change.



Food on the menu

Soil erosion © Europan seed

To tackle the climate emergency, we must urgently transform the conventional ways we produce, transport, eat and dispose of food worldwide. Cities are crucial drivers for this cultural, social and economic change: their residents consume 70% of the world’s food, and the policies they design and implement impact millions of people. URBACT cities and networks have understood this and are seeking to make their own contribution to the global challenge.


Current food systems have strong negative impacts on climate. Production, distribution, loss and waste of food account for around 30% of GHG emissions. This in turn leads to biodiversity loss, extinction of species, deforestation, soil erosion, freshwater scarcity… At the same time, climate impacts all affect food systems: for producers affected by the lack of predictability of yields and food prices, incomes are increasingly volatile.


The distribution chain is becoming less and less reliable with strong concerns about city autonomy. All these affect rural areas’ survival. And problems were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Socio-economic and health inequalities are booming, with threats to food quality and food safety, with malnutrition as a key risk factor for hunger and disease.



The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact


The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, launched at the initiative of the City of Milan at the Milan Expo 2015, has now been signed by more than 200 cities. It is an international protocol aimed at tackling food-related issues at the urban level, to be adopted by as many world cities as possible. By signing this agreement, cities not only declare their commitment, but also benefit from practical guidance including 37 recommended actions – in the areas of Governance, Sustainable Diets and Nutrition, Social and economic Equity, Food Production, Food Supply and Distribution, and Food waste. Each recommended action has specific indicators to monitor progress in implementing the Pact. The Milan Pact Awards promote examples of successful food policies that cities are implementing in all six Pact categories.


Each year now (except for 2020 because of the pandemic), a global forum organised in a signatory city is a chance for cities to exchange knowledge, build partnerships and celebrate progress in implementing improved food policies through the Milan Pact Awards. Dialogue and technical exchange among signatories are enriched by the participation of relevant international organisations and institutions.

Held just before the COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, the 7th MUFPP Global Forum was strategic in raising cities’ voices on the food-climate nexus. It launched the Barcelona Challenge on Good Food and Climate: a call for cities to engage in the transformation of food systems to tackle the climate emergency, drawing on the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration and the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact Framework for Action. 


A team from URBACT, including the Spanish National URBACT Point, showcased examples of EU cities already making real, positive change.


Focusing on the topic of ‘Growing Resilience: Sustainable Food to Tackle the Climate Emergency,’ this event was an opportunity to (re)connect, exchange experiences, challenges, knowledge, and best practices, to inspire and get inspired with the shared goal of fixing urban food systems, while addressing the climate emergency.


In the URBACT-led session on ‘Integrated local food ecosystems to tackle climate change: URBACT’s lessons and actions’, diverse towns and cities presented their achievements in designing local food: Mollet Del Vallès (ES), partner in the URBACT networks Diet for a Green Planet and Agri-Urban; Mouans-Sartoux (FR) partner in Agri-Urban, BioCanteens #1 and #2; Milan (IT), labelled URBACT Good Practice and lead city in NEXT AGRI; and Nourish Scotland, co-coordinator of the Glasgow Food Declaration, together with IPES-Food.


An integrated food ecosystems approach


An ecosystem approach is key to ensuring that food provides access to healthy diets and nutrition for all, agroecology and regenerative agriculture, circular economy and the provisioning of just livelihoods. Such an approach involves understanding the range of stakeholders and complexity of their interactions; it is a crucial framework to identify, analyse and address synergies and trade-offs between various climate change responses.


Food systems © IPES-FOOD


Integration is another key competent of any transformation toward a sustainable local food system, and is vital in tackling multiple challenges such as technical gaps, behavioural changes and market failures. Integration is also embedded in the URBACT method, as follows:


  • Transversality: food is linked to agriculture, trade and industry, health, labour, environment, international cooperation… All these should be taken into consideration simultaneously when improving food systems.
  • Multi-actor: relevant departments from cities, regions and states covering the above-mentioned policies need to work together, as well as with stakeholders from the private, civil society and academic sectors.
  • Multi-level governance mechanisms: innovations take place at the local and regional levels. They should be supported and incentivised by international and national governments.
  • Territoriality: food ecosystems should be linked to each other with a strong focus on urban and peri-urban linkages. Rural areas should be further interconnected with cities of different sizes.
  • Infrastructure and social innovation: combining investments in tools, products, building with experimentation and people involvement and interaction is crucial to ensure a smooth transition of all to a sustainable food system.



Several entry points for a local integrated ecosystem


Many URBACT cities are frontrunners, inspiring others to act locally for more sustainable food systems. Their actions also provide insights into various possible entry points for cities to start developing their own sustainable local food ecosystem. For example:



LOOKING BACK AT COP26: a boost for sustainable food


In 2021, the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration demonstrated that not only do we need integrated food systems to fight climate change but also that local governments are key in this, and that this should be acknowledged by higher governance levels. In fact, at COP26, the mayor of Mouans-Sartoux was present to transmit the importance of sustainable food systems.


This piece was originally published by Marcelline Boneau in 2021. It has been updated in December 2023 in light of developments around COP28.

Submitted by Marcelline Bonneau on 10/11/2021
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Marcelline Bonneau

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