Foraging for Solutions: How the UN’s Shortcoming Are Hurting Our Chances of Eliminating Food Waste

A blog post by Emily McGowan, Junior Associate.

In 2015, the United Nations (“UN”) created the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.[1] Included in the Agenda are 17 Goals set forth by the UN, and all its members, as a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere.”[2]  Among the 17 Goals, is Goal 12, which “strives to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.”[3]  Part of this goal includes halving per capita global food waste at both retail and consumer levels and reducing food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses, by 2030.[4]  Seeing as though an estimated 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted globally each year,[5] and food waste is responsible for approximately 6 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions,[6] it is crucial that the UN not only set forth guidelines, targets, and indicators to guide countries, but also set forth international regulations and treaties that have strict enforcement on how to control and eliminate food waste. Beyond stating a goal to half the amount of global food waste per capita, the UN has not offered any large-scale ideas on how to achieve this goal. The UN has stated that “[i]mplementation and success will rely on countries’ own sustainable development policies, plans and programmes, and will be led by countries. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be a compass for aligning countries’ plans with their global commitments.”[7]  While the intention to reduce food waste is there, and the framework has been set, countries are virtually left to achieve these shared goals on their own. Leaving regulation of food waste to individual countries, who inevitably will hand it off to local actors, shifts the responsibility away from the people in the position to have the most impactful effect on food waste at an international level.

[1] UN Secretary-General, The Sustainable Development Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals (Dec. 14, 2020), https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/.

[2] Id.

[3]UN Secretary-General, Sustainable Development: Goal 12, United Nations (Dec. 14, 2020), https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal12.

[4] UN USG for Economic and Social Affairs, #Envision2030 Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, United Nations (Dec. 15 2020),

https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030-goal12.html.

[5]  Laura Depta, Global Food Waste and its Environmental Impact, RESET (2018),

https://en.reset.org/knowledge/global-food-waste-and-its-environmental-impact-09122018.

[6] Hannah Ritchie, Food waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Our World in Data (Mar. 18, 2020), https://ourworldindata.org/food-waste-emissions#:~:text=This%20means%20that%20food%20wastage,farm%20during%20production%20and%20harvesting.

[7] UN Secretary-General, supra note 1.

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