How young people can lead the charge in transforming our global food system and combating climate change

A plate of three tacos with a hand grabbing for one
‘Climate action cannot take place without action on food systems,’ Sophie Healy-Thow, global youth campaign coordinator for Act4Food Act4Change, said. Jamie Sue Photography/Shutterstock
  • The global food system directly affects the climate, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Act4Food Act4Change’s event at COP26 on November 7 will discuss its impact.
  • Young people have the power and more at stake and must take action, experts say.

The global food system plays a major role in the ongoing health, climate, biodiversity, and human-rights crises. It contributes to more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions, and about a third of all food produced is wasted while many people worldwide can’t afford healthy, nutritious meals.

Headshot of  Sophie Healy-Thow in white shirt
Sophie Healy-Thow. Courtesy of Act4Food and Act4Change.

“The one thing we all have in common, wherever we live and however rich we are, is food,” Sophie Healy-Thow, global youth campaign coordinator for Act4Food Act4Change, a youth-led initiative striving to positively change the global food system, told Insider. “We all play integral parts in the food system as consumers, and if we want a future where people and the planet are healthy, we need to start caring more about creating more sustainable food systems.”Youth leaders from around the world will come together to discuss the valuable role they play in transforming global food systems at the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 (COP26) in Glasgow on November 7. The event, titled “Act4Food Act4Change: Calling all young people to be agents of change in food systems transformation,” will be hosted by Dara Karakolis, an Act4Food Act4Change youth leader from Canada and global youth lead at The Food Foundation, which is also partnering on the session along with WWF.

“We want to ensure food and nutrition are firmly on the agenda for all future COP and climate events,” Healy-Thow said. “Food systems are a huge contributor to climate change, as well as being central to societal well-being and successful economic development.”

Some of the issues the group hopes to highlight include how the food system is structured so that it often costs more to cook healthy foods than buy unhealthy fast foods and that local, indigenous knowledge creates a more inclusive and sustainable system. Single-use plastics, the advertising of junk foods to children, and how small-scale food producers are affected by local governments, taxes, and climate change are other issues on the agenda.

Healy-Thow encourages everyone to sign the Act4Food pledge to show their commitment to food system transformation. Nearly 105,000 pledges have been made so far. “It’s a pledge to demand urgent large-scale action from ourselves and others, especially from decision-makers in government and business,” she said.

People ages 15 to 24 accounted for 16% of the global population in 2019, according to the UN. With such a large number, Healy-Thow said young people have the power to change the food system – and, they have more at stake as they’ll be around longer than today’s older demographics.

Individuals aged 30 and under are urged to vote for their top Actions4Change, including banning single-use plastic packaging, ensuring everyone can afford healthy and nutritious meals, and protecting food production from political disruption and the impact of climate change. The actions are personal commitments, Healy-Thow said, but also demands for those in power to take action.

Young people can also get involved by signing up to become an Act4Food Act4Change Youth Advocate.

“We’ve seen the power young people are having in the climate-action movement,” she said. “We need to have that same energy for food systems. We need change and we can be the people to create that change before it’s too late. Climate action cannot take place without action on food systems and food systems cannot change without climate action.”