Our response to COP27: Climate action means systems change

As always, the results of these most recent climate negotiations were mixed. There were some wins, like the historic fund for “loss and damages”, as well as some faults, such as the lack of essential commitments to phasing out fossil fuels. Climate issues are closely tied to our team’s personal and professional interests, so we were watching the discussions closely. Keep reading to hear Megan, Laura, and Lindsay’s takes on COP27 and the systems-level changes needed in climate action. 

Social and environmental justice is good business 

Climate action, like most social and environmental justice efforts, is typically framed as a suite of necessary sacrifices to do the right thing. That angle might resonate with activists, but won’t reach the majority of the population. And why should it? Most of us rightly spend most of our time thinking about our household economics, health, education, and safety – with all the more reason now that real wages are plummeting faster than ever.

Climate action, at its heart, is the process of changing wildly inefficient, costly, leaky systems into highly efficient, highly productive, virtuous cycles. That conversion will stop the intangible belching of carbon into the atmosphere. It will also stop a lot of things that feel much closer to home for most of us. 

Highly efficient systems are cheap, clean, quiet, and easy to maintain. They’ll make our neighborhoods nicer, our bodies healthier, our work opportunities greater, our homes more pleasant, and our wallets happier. Climate-smart systems are health-smart systems, family-smart systems, work-smart systems, community-smart systems, and money-smart systems. 

Why are we still trying to convince people to care about what we care about, instead of telling them all the ways these changes will help with what THEY care about?

As it turns out, what they care about would help our cause, too. Project Drawdown estimates that equal rights to robust healthcare and education would reduce climate change impacts by as much as carbon removal technology. Notably, carbon removal technology has yet to be achieved at scale. We already know how to provide good healthcare and education to everyone; it’s simply a matter of doing it.

Megan Mayzelle

Negotiations shy away from food systems thinking

There was fear ahead of this year’s negotiations that agriculture would slip off the agenda as delegates discussed the continuation of the Koronivia Joint Work for Agriculture – the only UNFCC workstream on food. Thankfully, the workstream was renewed for another four years.

While it’s great that food is staying on the table, many are disappointed that the workstream kept its narrow focus on food security and agriculture rather than looking at food systems as a whole.

Food systems-thinking considers the full complexities of what we eat, moving beyond how it is produced to also consider how it is consumed, transported, and governed. While “food systems” language was initially included, some delegates were against it, and the final focus landed on the “implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security”.  

Tackling industrial agricultural systems is essential to climate action and resilience. However, this narrow focus fails to acknowledge the broader systemic issues of current food systems. A food systems-approach would ensure that present  challenges like consumption patterns, diets, food waste, and supply chains do not go unaddressed. Failing to consider the system as a whole perpetuates  bandaid technological solutions that are blind to the bigger picture. Effective climate action needs systems-thinking to ensure a just and healthy future for all.

Laura Coomber

Increasing yield at the cost of ecosystems, biodiversity, and animal welfare

An EU-proposed strategy at COP27 aims to ensure its member states and developing countries receive a stable supply of fertilizers for farming. Fertilizers have undoubtedly provided socioeconomic and developmental benefits through improved crop yields. However, excessive use of fertilizers has become rampant, and it has dramatic consequences for the planet.  

Fertilizers have dramatically decreased malnutrition prevalence by allowing humans to grow more food with less. When misused, however, they become environmental pollutants. Any proposed increase in fertilizer use should acknowledge the damage caused by their overapplication. Similarly, the effects of climate change on fertilizer pollution must be considered; the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heavy rainfall, will increase fertilizer run-off, further damaging ecosystems.

When used to increase animal food crop yields,fertilizers are also linked to the global impact of intensive animal agriculture. Livestock are responsible for roughly one-third of the global methane emissions linked to human activity. Even if all emissions from fossil fuels were discounted, the existing high-protein food system would still produce enough emissions to ensure global warming exceeds 1.5°C.

By indirectly supporting intensive animal agriculture in the Global North, the EU’s fertilizer communication ignores a host of interconnected issues, including animal welfare concerns, biodiversity and ecosystem loss, and public health challenges. Against the backdrop of climate change, our food systems require more innovative, cross-sectoral transformation than quick-fix solutions like making fertilizers more accessible.   

Lindsay Hartley-Backhouse, MSc


Real climate action means changing the systems we currently have, including food production, energy, and even healthcare. That change doesn’t have to mean sacrifice. Nearly every systems change will bring multiple social and ecological benefits beyond a stable climate. Like all worthwhile things in life, these changes require an investment of time and money, and the results will be well worthwhile. That just leaves the question – what are we waiting for?

Want to chat more with Lindsay, Megan, or Laura? We’d love to hear from you – connect and let’s chat!  


carbon, carbon emissions, climate action, climate change, systems change

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