Forging Links Between Urban Agriculture and the Climate Agenda


Written By: Lauren Baker, Member of Agritecture’s Advisory Board

The 4th Annual NYC AgTech Week, September 21 to 26 coincides with another key event happening in NYC. The United Nations Climate Action Summit, spearheaded by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, will mobilize global leaders to develop concrete, realistic plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050. This builds on the commitments made via the Paris Agreement in 2016 and comes at a moment in history where there is a collective and universal acknowledgment about the climate emergency we face.

For anyone who cares about sustainable food systems, sustainable cities, and urban agriculture this is an important call to action. As an advisor to Agritecture, I am excited to see synergies between these two events and communities. At the Climate Action Summit, there will be a number of events addressing the intersection between the climate crisis, food insecurity, malnutrition, diet-related chronic disease, environmental pollution and contamination, rising inequality and poverty, migration and urbanization. The NYC AgTech Week events are included in the list and serve to demonstrate the links between urban agriculture and the climate agenda.

As we grapple with these complex challenges, there is an important opportunity for urban agriculture to play a role in providing the solutions we collectively need.

And what are some of these solutions?  

  1. Green infrastructure - Installing green roofs and new landscape features will be central to climate change adaptation, to address flooding, absorb stormwater runoff and mitigate heat island effects. Designing cities for the multiple co-benefits urban agriculture can provide will be an increasing part of urban planning and climate adaptation strategies.

  2. Local food production – Promoting urban agriculture can decrease food miles, reduce building energy demand (through roof and wall gardens), and support local producers.

  3. Strengthen local markets - Mobilizing city government procurement for schools, hospitals, senior residences, and civic buildings can foster more sustainable and healthy diets through purchasing local, seasonal, and fresh food. Urban agriculture can also play a role to ensure fresh food is available at local stores and markets.

  4. Sustainable food distribution – Supporting sustainable food transportation and logistics planning to develop or strengthen a safe and energy-efficient municipal public market system, including wholesale markets, is an important aspect of urban agriculture and the urban-regional food system.

  5. Addressing food waste – Raising awareness of and addressing food loss and waste, including by facilitating recovery and redistribution of excess food and implementing collection for composting are key urban agriculture activities.

A triad of global agreements provide a working framework for how urban agriculture advocates and professionals can contribute to global policy priorities. 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals “provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), represent a global compass for ending poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequality, spurring economic growth, addressing climate change, and protecting the environment. The need to strengthen agriculture and food systems is a common thread through all the SDGs.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sets ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse emissions and address the causes and impacts of climate change. Focusing on both climate mitigation (reducing and preventing greenhouse gas emissions) and climate adaptation (support for coping with climate impacts), again, there are key linkages to food systems. Food systems contribute up to 30% of climate emissions, but also offer opportunities to provide solutions.

Last but not least, the New Urban Agenda was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador in 2016. “The New Urban Agenda represents a shared vision for a better and more sustainable future—one in which all people have equal rights and access to the benefits and opportunities that cities can offer, and in which the international community reconsiders the urban systems and physical form of our urban spaces to achieve this.” Urban agriculture is part of the global vision for how we design and plan our cities into the future.

What this trio of global agreements illustrate is that food systems - and their central role linking rural and urban communities - can and must become part of the solution, enhancing positive impacts and benefits and minimizing the negative externalities of current food systems activities.

Cities are key actors in this global agenda and have organized around several networks that have developed a focus on food systems, aiming to enable urban agriculture and strengthening city-region food systems.

The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is a global network of over 1,500 cities, towns, and regions committed to building a sustainable future. ICLEI’s CITYFOOD Network aims to accelerate local government action on city-region food systems by combining networking with training, policy guidance, and technical expertise to its participants. 

The C40 Cities (climate leadership group) is a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. C40 supports cities to collaborate, share knowledge, and drive meaningful, measurable, and sustainable action on climate change.

The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact was signed in October 2015 during the World Expo. The Expo’s theme was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” and the Mayor of Milan decided to develop and launch an international framework related to cities and food. Over 180 cities have signed the pact and are involved in its implementation.

Looking for inspiration? Here is how Quito, Johannesburg, and Wanju County are acting on urban agriculture: