Food and the Global Biodiversity Challenge: An exploration on how urban food governance can be part of the solution
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Worldwide biodiversity is declining faster than any time in human history. This threatens the proper functioning of ecosystems and ultimately human existence itself. Food production is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. As cities accommodate the majority of the world population and thus constitute centres of resource consumption, the urban food system is a potential point of intervention to address the global biodiversity challenge. So far, answers to the question which role cities can play in the solution to halt biodiversity loss beyond their own jurisdictional boundaries are limited. To understand how cities can become active players in the global biodiversity challenge, this research explores urban food governance in relation to urban, regional, and global biodiversity. Based on the discourse coalition approach, it examines eleven urban food strategies (UFSs) from cities that are members of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. The analysis results in four problem frames that the UFSs make use of: a productionist frame, a dietary change frame, a resource efficiency frame, and a welfare frame. While all UFSs use these four frames, they tell different storylines to interpret and connect them with each other. For a smaller sample of three cities – Cologne, Copenhagen, and London – I conducted an in-depth analysis of urban food governance instruments in place in the cities that have a direct or indirect effect on biodiversity either in or outside of the city. In the context of the different problem frames and storylines in urban food governance, four main findings emerge. (1) Cities have a strong public health mandate and most of the UFSs emphasise the importance of a healthy diet. Accelerating the protein transition (reducing the amount of animal proteins in our diets) offers potential for synergies between biodiversity conservation and health. (2) Many cities are in favour of a stronger regionalisation of their food system, however, as scientific evidence of environmental benefits of local and regional food is thin, regional food should always be coupled with other characteristics, like seasonal food production or environmental criteria such as organic agriculture. (3) Cities should incorporate food more strongly into their work on the circular economy to diversify instruments tackling food waste. Lastly, (4) urban agriculture offers a lot of opportunities for citizens: It offers room for education, relaxation, and community building. Cities that see urban agriculture primarily as a means for local food production, should also recognise these social benefits. The results show that except for urban agriculture, these instruments address regional and global biodiversity loss. This confirms the potential of cities to become transformative actors in the global biodiversity challenge and the importance of further research on this topic.