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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - November 2018

Urban food policy, a vehicle for change

Urban food systems are a driver of climate change, but they are also at risk from it.

Comprising no less than 20-30% of global greenhouse emissions, the contribution of the food system to climate change requires a new form of leadership. Cities – hosting over half the world’s population – play a significant role in mitigating the negative impacts that unsustainable dietary habits have on the planet.

From innovative plant-centric public meals to food waste reduction campaigns, large and small actions are having significant ripple effects.

Mayors take the lead

Signed in 2015 by 120 mayors from cities around the world, The Milano Urban Food Policy Pact is a symbol for how critical food has become to protecting the climate, and the health and well-being of urban citizens.

“Cities need to tackle the social, economic, environmental and educational nexus of food production and consumption. Creating a climate-friendly urban food system – while increasing the level of resilience and sustainability of the city – could also mean the creation of new skills, jobs, start-ups and innovation in the agri-food sector, including production, processing and food waste,” explains Anna Scavuzzo, the Vice Mayor of Milan responsible for food policy.

Adopting a common strategy enables mayors to coordinate their efforts, achieving common goals that address food-related issues in urban centres.

Championing the meal

Public, i.e. state-provided, meals are the new battleground where unsustainable consumption habits are being broken down one meal at a time.

Cities like Copenhagen, Helsinki and Malmö have changed their public procurement policies to support innovation that improves the sustainability performance of food consumption.

Ida Bigum Nielsen, Senior Advisor on Sustainable City Development to the Municipality of Copenhagen, explains. “Public procurement is a driver of change. It’s something the City of Copenhagen has traditionally done in many areas, including food. However, as the total volume of food procured by the municipality is limited in relation to overall urban consumption, the direct climate impact relies on raising awareness and disseminating knowledge relating to the everyday practices of preparing and serving delicious and sustainable meals.”

“Cities around the world are beginning to understand the relationship between liveability with health and sustainability"

Jeff Risom
Chief Innovation Officer at Gehl

What’s good for the planet is often what’s best for human health

A recent study from the UK shows that people in cities with a high density of ready-to-eat food outlets have an 11% higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those who live far from fast food. Globalised unhealthy diets also share some of the responsibility for accelerating climate change.

“Cities around the world are beginning to understand the relationship between liveability with health and sustainability, realising that they can ‘do more with less’ by coordinating investments that contribute to all three. With constrained budgets and resources, a prosperous urban future depends on a deep understanding of the intersection of public health, food systems, environmental sustainability and urban design,” says Jeff Risom, Chief Innovation Officer at Gehl, a global urban design consultancy based in Copenhagen.

With no sign of urbanisation slowing in the foreseeable future, facilitating the transition to more sustainable diets will be sharp tool in a city’s arsenal of climate change mitigation and public health policies. Years from now, we will look back at the brave food policies (and mayors!)  that helped us to future-proof our food system.


Interested in knowing more about the most innovative food policies from the Nordic region? Download the Solutions Menu: A Nordic Guide to Sustainable Food Policy.

The Nordic Food Policy Lab will be hosting a policy lab on urban food systems at COP24 on 7 December at the Nordic Pavilion. 


Photo 1: Florian Olivo / Unsplash

Photo 2: Anna Rosenberg