As the world grapples with the outcomes from this year’s United Nations climate summit (COP28), the role of registered dietitians in climate action becomes increasingly pertinent. With the unique expertise of dietitians and all health and wellness professionals in our food systems and nutrition, you are positioned at the forefront of a global movement towards sustainable eating practices. Dietitians, in particular, play a crucial role in promoting environmental stewardship through diet and highlighting to shoppers the powerful intersection between nutrition and climate action.
Food systems are intricately linked to environmental health, a fact that places all health and wellness professionals, especially retail dietitians, in a pivotal position to influence climate change in their retail organizations. The production, distribution and consumption of food account for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions, with livestock farming and deforestation for agricultural expansion being major contributors. The way we produce and consume food affects land use, biodiversity and water resources. As experts in nutrition, retail dietitians have the knowledge to advocate for and guide sustainable food choices that not only promote health, but also reduce environmental impact. As experts in communication, retail dietitians can empower shoppers to make these changes to help their families’ health and protect the planet at the same time. As experts in retail, retail dietitians have the voice to effectively communicate to their internal stakeholders the importance of the intersection of climate and nutrition based on real science. By understanding these dynamics, we can guide our communities towards dietary patterns that support both personal health and the planet’s sustainability.
COP28, for the first time, put food on the main agenda. The key outcomes included:
- The United Nations food agency issued a landmark report laying out what it would take to align the global food system with its goal to limit average global temperature rise to manageable levels.
- Vice President Kamala Harris announced a series of initiatives as the United States works with international partners to mobilize and finance at the pace and scale required to combat climate change.
- The United States and United Arab Emirates jointly committed $17 billion toward agricultural innovations to address climate change.
- The Emirates Declaration, which 158 countries committed to, integrates food into national climate plans. While it is voluntary, it’s a huge step in bringing food and nutrition to the climate discussion table.
- The Global Stocktake, to be finalized by 2025, provides a guide for countries’ new climate plans – however, it has come under controversy as it does not address the need to cut emissions from food and agriculture which contributes a third of global greenhouse gases.
Dietitians and health and wellness professionals have a role beyond individual counseling and community education; you can be advocates for policy change. By participating in and understanding forums like the UN Climate Summit and collaborating with policymakers, you can help shape food policies that promote sustainable practices. This includes working alongside retail buyers and category managers in supporting policies that encourage the production of environmentally-friendly, nutrient-rich foods and those that aim to reduce food waste. Your expertise is invaluable in ensuring that nutrition remains a key consideration in climate-related policies. Furthermore, we must engage in local and global networks of dietitians and other professionals dedicated to sustainability, sharing best practices and staying informed about the latest research and strategies in nutrition and environmental health.
Education is a powerful tool in the arsenal. By incorporating sustainability into your educational programs and shopper consultations, together we can foster a deeper understanding of the relationship between diet and the environment. It is critical that we educate our shoppers on how their food choices impact the environment, and to provide actionable and practical tips for adopting more sustainable eating habits. With that, the shopper wins, and the planet wins.