Real action on food and climate is bureaucrazily slow

By Bruce Campbell, Chief Innovation Strategist, Clim-Eat

  • The decision-making bodies we rely on to tackle climate change operate so slowly they are completely out of sync with the needs of humanity at a time of existential crisis.
  • Approvals for novel foods, provision of climate finance, and the annual UNFCCC COPs are taking far too long to make progress.
  • Public money funds many of the bodies, events and processes we rely on for tackling climate change. We need to call out the people and organisations that are not delivering enough or on time.


I can hardly believe that in 2023 I’m repeating the same mantra: We need definitive action on climate change.

And yet, despite all the science and now-mainstream public concern, the decision-making bodies we rely on to pull the levers are taking years – sometimes decades – to do anything at all.

It’s a case of bureaucracy being completely out of sync with the needs of humanity at a time of existential crisis.

As a scientist working for many years on climate change and food – from the fields of the poorest farmers to the highest corridors of power – I can point the finger in various directions.

But let’s start with the European Union. It has the power to approve new ways of producing food that could help to transform the food sector and make it both more productive and climate-smart. But its regulatory bottlenecks mean it can take .

That’s too long in a time of crisis.

Insect-based foods – long seen as a more sustainable protein than many meat sources – are a case in point. EU approval requires evidence of safe consumption for more than 25 years in non-EU countries. That’s a quarter of a century to give the nod to foods that have been safely consumed for millennia, including by 2 billion people in Africa and Asia today.

I’m not one to regularly quote Peter Andre, but this is Insania.

Next, let’s look at climate finance – the way projects on climate-smart adaptation and mitigation are funded. It’s a vital lever for bodies like the United Nations to help developing countries respond to climate change. But preparation, approval and disbursement of money can take up to half a decade and only then can any work actually start. Again, this is too long in a time of crisis.

Staying with the UN, what about the annual climate change conferences, known as COPs? These global-level negotiations are all about agreeing the scope of the climate change challenge and getting countries to commit to tackling it. The negotiations only recognised agriculture – a major greenhouse gas emitter and sink – as key to solving climate change in 2009. Then it took until 2017 to agree on the next steps and until 2022 to conclude that, among other things, “socioeconomic and food security dimensions are critical when dealing with climate change in agriculture and food systems.”

Please forgive my slow applause. But thirteen years of waiting for action resulted in nothing more than some underwhelming words from arguably the world’s highest convening authority on climate change.

Even where there are clear commitments to action, we see little impact: It’s become common for the “COP Presidency” – the regal term to describe the annual host country – to launch their own initiative for tackling climate change. I won’t name names, but already some are being mothballed or quietly ushered out of existence, now that the spotlight has moved elsewhere.

With all this in mind, and with another year of climate change conferences well underway with the UN’s Bonn Climate Conference just concluded with marginal progress, I think we have a right to be impatient, cynical and more vocal.

So let’s remember one key thing: public money funds many of the bodies, events, and processes for tackling climate change. We are right to hold them to account. We need to call out the people and organisations behind them if they’re not delivering enough, or on time – whether via social media, the mainstream media or other channels. We also need to track the promises made, to see whether they are being implemented and the targets achieved. Where initiatives have been quietly dropped or have under-performed, we need to bring that into the open. We need to to remind governments, organisations, and policymakers – today – that change simply must be faster.


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