Bringing It Down To Earth: Nature Risk & Agriculture

Posted on June, 15 2021

Conventional food production is to nature loss what fossil fuels are to climate change - but because we can’t phase out food, we need to transform production.
Creating a sustainable global food system is critical if we are to feed a growing global population and achieve the fundamental human right to healthy and nutritious food within planetary boundaries.

Yet conventinal food production practices are unsustainable and present a range of environmental, social and health risks that will only grow if business as usual continues.

Financial instiutions should recognise the risks and impacts of existing food systems, especially on nature and climate, and
 invest in nature-positive solutions across this diverse sector of the global economy.

A new WWF report, 'Bringing It Down To Earth: Nature Risk & Agriculture', highlights how unsustainable production practices present systemic risks across our food and financial systems, and how shifting to more sustainable practices can unlock benefits for people and planet.

Providing evidence as well as tools and guidance, the report will help
 investors and lenders keen to understand the broader impacts of the agribusiness sector, mitigate risk, manage impact, and leverage opportunities.

Outline of Chapters

Chapter 1 outlines characteristics of the global food system and ‘lock-in’ factors that keep the system inefficient, costly and fundamentally unsustainable. These include excessive goverment subsidies, increasing industrialisation without adequate environmental controls, and corporate concentration (especially in the fertiliser, seed, and chemical industries, and commodity trading). These factors mask the broader environmental, socio-economic and health implications or ‘externalities’ we describe in later chapters.

Chapter 2 describes how food systems, and particularly agricultural production, detrimentally impact and influence the interconnected issues of land degradation, climate change and biodiversity loss. We show how the food system is to biodiversity loss what the energy system is to climate change, and why it is critical for all those investing in and regulating the food industry to address these impacts.

Chapter 3 presents a framework for understanding how impacts and dependencies in the food system can lead to a variety of nature-related risks - physical, regulatory, market, reputational, systemic - and ultimately financial risks. We identify and present some of the largest risks related to unsustainable farming practices impacting soil and water quality, biodiversity and the climate.

Chapter 4 presents available solutions for transforming food systems across three levels:
  • agricultural production practices
  • dietary trends
  • food waste
Based on an extensive review of the latest scientific evidence, aligning food systems with the Earth’s planetary boundaries will allow companies and financial institutions to manage impacts and risks, and identify opportunities to scale up transformational solutions.

For those regulating or investing in production, we outline the key principles of sustainable agriculture. And for those in consumer-facing industries, we also outline what a ‘planet-based diet’ looks like.

Finally, we identify five key actions for financial institutions working with companies exposed to nature-related risks and impacts in the food sector, as well as offering suggestions for practical tools and approaches to address risks and impacts.