Climate and Food Justice and the Sustainable Development Goals

Part of UN Sunday

In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which included 17 Sustainable Development Goals to achieve by the target year of 2030. The Introduction to the 2030 Agenda includes the ambitious pledge “that no one will be left behind… And we will endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.” Currently, efforts are doubling down for a Decade of Action, driven by the need for rapid progress on many of the goals to meet the 2030 deadline. This will require many systemic changes, across the entire world community, including to our food systems.

Why Talk—or Even Care—About These Goals?

The United States and Canada both signed on to achieve these 17 Goals in 2015, committing to work towards achieving them by 2030. You may have noticed that the U.S. and Canadian governments don’t seem to be implementing these goals and their targets as part of national policy, as some countries have done. United Nations Sunday is an opportunity for Unitarian Universalists to engage with some of the Sustainable Development Goals, to pressure our governments to implement some of the policy changes that these Goals and our values call for – and that the governments have themselves committed to by adopting the 2030 Agenda several years ago! Action is happening in some nations and cities as part of a global movement to achieve these goals. Let’s make sure similar action happens in our local communities!

Specific Goals for the 2021 United Nations Sunday Theme

Although it has its own goal (Goal 13), climate action is integral to all dimensions of inclusive, sustainable development. In short, all the SDGs depend on the achievement of Goal 13, and vice-versa. It is our responsibility as Unitarian Universalists and global citizens to take action to ensure that climate change adaptation policies are responsive to ending poverty (Goal 1), ensuring good health (Goal 3) and decent work (Goal 8) for all, and increasing access to justice & accountable institutions (Goal 16). The following are the goals that relate most directly to climate and food justice (take a look at the full list of Sustainable Development Goals; you might disagree with these top three!):

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

"End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture"

Making large-scale changes to our food and agricultural systems is necessary if we want to finally tackle world hunger and food insecurity once and for all. Current agribusiness-centric approaches have proven insufficient for ensuring consistent and sustainable access to healthy, nutritious food. This is a problem that will only continue over time, unless we radically alter systems of food production and distribution. Target 3 of this goal highlights the need to support the “agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists, and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources, and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.” Addressing harmful food systems cannot just be about the environment and the people eating food; it also must be about equity and justice for those who grow food. We have seen (see the Delving Deeper section in 2021 UN Sunday Theme) the harm caused by exploitation of the small-scale food producers named in this target – to which we add Black farmers in the U.S. and Canada. Working towards this target means implementing policies that actively provide equity for these farmers.

Goal 2 Policy Recommendations

In the United States, a bill is in the works called the Justice for Black Farmers Act, calling for reforms in the Department of Agriculture to address the history of discrimination against Black farmers and ranchers. UUs for Social Justice has led UU legislative action on this. Follow their organizing to see how you can get involved.

*Additional recommendations (including for Canada) coming soon!*

Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

"Reduce Inequality Within and Among Countries"

Reducing inequality of access to healthy and nutritious food within and among countries is a prime component to achieving food justice. The current status-quo leaves too many living in famine or food apartheid, while other communities have more good food than they know what to do with – food that ends up being dumped into carbon-gushing landfills. Target 6 of this goal is to “ensure enhanced representation and voice for developing countries in decision-making” on the global stage. Unfortunately, many of the countries and communities most negatively impacted by current food systems have minimal power to influence international policies. We lift up the more local extension of Target 6 in a call to empower disenfranchised communities so they have influence within their own countries’ policy- and decision-making. Target 6 acknowledges that reducing these political inequalities will increase not only legitimacy and accountability, but also the efficacy of these institutions and decision-making processes. In taking on food justice, we must use collective power to amplify the voices of those most affected, producing results that are both more fair and more effective.

Goal 10 Policy Recommendations

In the U.S. there is a movement to get the U.S. to pay its fair share to the Green Climate Fund, a part of the Paris Agreement stipulating that wealthy nations provide funding to developing nations for implementation of sustainability measures. Send letters to policymakers on this issue.

*Additional recommendations (including for Canada) coming soon!*

Goal 15: Life on Land

"Protect, Restore and Promote Sustainable Use of Terrestrial Ecosystems, Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, and Halt and Reverse Land Degradation and Halt Biodiversity Loss"

As discussed in the introduction to this year’s UN Sunday Theme, sustainable use of land and ecosystems is a crucial element to drawdown, or reversing the course of climate change, by supporting techniques where carbon is captured from the atmosphere and trapped in plants, soil, or the sea. In order to do this, we must take all measures possible to stop deforestation and seek wisdom from communities whose traditional practices halt desertification and land degradation. In all of this, biodiversity is key to planetary health and resilience. Natural ecosystems – not just specific plant and animal life, but the global climate as a whole – are in peril due to unsustainable practices and relationships most humans have with the natural world around us. This is to our own detriment, since declining ecosystems pose enormous threats to humans’ health, well-being, and way of life.

Goal 15 Policy Recommendations

*Coming soon!*

Learn more about all the Sustainable Development Goals, and suggestions from the UU@UN on how to take action as a congregation.