UN Report: Government agriculture subsidies harm the environment

23 Sep 2021

In a new report released by the United Nations, the governmental body noted that nearly 90% of global farming subsidies cause harm to nature and human health. Of the $540 billion in agricultural subsidies allocated annually, the U.N. said $470 billion of those dollars are financing activities that have damaging consequences on the environment.

In the assessment, which was a collaboration between the U.N.’s FAO, UNDP and UNEP bodies, 87% of the monetary support issued by governments support industries that are mainly large agri-business conglomerates “distorts prices, environment and social goals.” Experts from the U.N. called for a “repurposing” of government funding towards sustainable agri-food solutions.

UN Report: Government agriculture subsidies harm the environment

This report comes just prior to the convocation of the U.N. Food Systems Summit in New York, where participants will look to help combat climate change by creating sustainable food systems. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to battle climate change, the body’s assessment noted that creating more efficient and equitable subsidy distributions will help alleviate practices that are inconsistent with the Paris Agreement goals and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Not only are subsidies underwriting practices that are environmentally damaging, according to the report, but the majority are also not flowing toward enterprises that are invested in creating sustainable solutions for the long term alimentation of the global population. The U.N. estimates that by 2050 the global population will hit 10 billion, and in order to feed those people, the agricultural output of both plant and animal foods will need to be increased by 70% as compared to 2009 levels. Arriving at that level of production will pose an acute risk to the climate crisis mitigation goals set forth by the U.N.

Overall, global food systems are responsible for 35% of greenhouse gasses (GHG) emissions worldwide, according to a new study published last week in Nature Food. And the majority of those emissions come from the production of animal-based products, particularly beef and dairy. Every year, the entire food production system produces roughly 17.3 billion tons of GHGs. Of those, 60% are from animal-based foods whereas 29% are from plant-based foods.

In its report, the U.N. acknowledged the continued disparity between climate goals and the reality of current food production. However, the director-general of the FAO Qu Dongyu said in a statement that these findings are “wake-up call for governments around the world to rethink agricultural support schemes to make them fit for purpose to transform our agri-food systems.”

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