Year by year the effects of climate change become more and more manifest to all of us: Melting Arctic areas, rising sea-levels, rising temperatures, extreme drought periods, extreme rainfall, wildfires, transformation of modest into wild rivers, huge impacts on humans, animals, crops, especially in the most vulnerable areas where local populations are least able to defend themselves against changing climate conditions. In scientific studies, our time is called ‘the sixth mass extinction event’; the first of such events caused by humankind itself, strongly related to our unsustainable way of living, which began with the industrial revolution. And still, awareness and the will to change are very low. So, how do we find a way out? And what can organic food and agriculture contribute?

Greenhouse Effect

Recently, the Organic Processing and Trade Association Europe (OPTA) launched a Manifesto for Organic Climate Action. A step that was driven forward by some individual members, like Ronald van Marlen (NaNaBio), an activist organic entrepreneur. When the new working group on “climate” was launched by members in spring 2021, it was voted a top priority. A Climate Working Group was formed and within half a year the Manifesto and a number of actions were agreed on at the OPTA GA of November 2021.

The first step in the Manifesto is to affirm scientific findings as the basis for all actions: Yes, we are heading for a huge rise in global temperatures – of between 1,5 and 6 degrees in just decades. Only if we act now, in the coming 7 years, can we limit to 1,5 or 2 degrees, in line with Paris 2015, but the weak and disappointing results of Glasgow 2021 doesn’t give room for much optimism.

OPTA members decided to focus on what we as the organic sector can contribute, with the attitude that organic helps, but will not be sufficient in the end. First of all, according to a recent article in Nature Food1, agricultural and food chain GHG emissions are around one third of total emissions. In several sectors, like energy, the transition has started. But food and agriculture are lagging far behind. It is the ambition of the organic sector to speed up transition to agroecological and regenerative organic agriculture that cuts GHG emissions and contributes to climate protection goals by the multifunctional environmental performance concept of the organic food and farming system approach. And, let’s note, the climate crisis is interacting massively with other environmental problems.

And yes, production, distribution and consumption of food from organic agriculture is a feasible action that we all can take, from farmer to consumer, to lower the pressure on climate change and secure healthy food supply. A comparison study by Peiper et al showed that the external climate costs of organic production, compared to conventional, can be up to 50% less.  And, importantly, as scientific papers show, organic consumers have a more healthy and sustainable consumption style. Organic provides more resilience based on biodiversity, a sound balance between animal and plant production, a natural circularity that works with the environment and is legally certified and controlled according to EU regulation that prohibits cherry-picking greenwashing. Additionally, organic cuts chemical drivers of climate change, improves biodiversity and soil fertility with positive impacts on CO2 uptake from the air and leads to a more balanced diet between plant and animal production.

But more will be needed, like dietary transformation, reduction of energy and water use, transition to a more regional and local food distribution, transition to green energy use and reduction of damaging packaging. The three central underlying concepts of sustainability are “sufficiency”, “circularity” and “efficiency”. A real challenge for all industry and societies. Therefore, OPTA will create a platform on its website to show the best practice of its members, illustrating initiatives to improve and reduce their climate footprint. Furthermore, OPTA will start a library of scientific publications with the clear aim to raise awareness about the impact of agriculture, food and consumption patterns on our climate and on the wider environment.

And, of course, we need the whole organic sector and its representatives to take up this responsible task together. Therefore, we welcome the BIOFACH theme of 2022 and will contribute with the workshops “Implementation residue handling of the new regulation” (10.15am-11.15am) and “Organic company strategies for Climate action” (1.15pm-2.15pm) on 28-7 at BIOFACH – Room St. Petersburg.

1. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions, M. Crippa et al., Nature food 2021: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00225-9 

Author: Bavo van den Idsert, OPTA Advisor | www.opta-eu-org

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