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Planetary Health: Vulnerable Culprit

Rounding off the Welcome Week at The University of Edinburgh on the first week of resumption, we were treated to dinner by the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Programme at the University of Edinburgh. It was a time to create moments, share stories, and have lots of laughs with Pauline Ooko, Mary Joboson, Mirabelle Morah, Foni Vuni and Esther Mungai. As I reflect on the memory, one of the funny moments that came to mind was how we playfully “redefined ‘food security’ to mean clearing our plates and ensuring no’morsel’ went to waste (effectively taking a stance against food wastage).” As amusing as our interpretation may sound, it holds broader implications when viewed from a macro perspective. But more importantly, how the vulnerable in society play along to produce an unhealthy planet.

“Food waste is defined as the reduction in quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions at various stages, from retailers and food vendors to consumers (SOFA, 2019).” This issue significantly impacts multiple aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), approximately 17% of food is wasted from retail to the point of consumption, meaning that out of every 100 units of food produced globally, 17 are wasted. Shockingly, this contributes to around 8–10% of greenhouse gas emissions (UNEP, 2021). These statistics show how continuing the practice of waste can be counterproductive to addressing climate change.

An argument that ensued during the preparatory interviews for Nigeria’s 2023 general election was that one of the candidates argued that Africa contributes less to cumulative climate change. On a recent reflection, I think this notion may be a prevalent thought in the mind of most Africans and those from low-income countries. How wrong?! In practice, whether actively or passively, humans contribute to addressing climate change in one way or another. While serving during the National Youth Service Corps programme at Edo State in 2014/15, a certain colleague of mine said that he does not eat “stale food”. Stale in the sense that it was cooked the previous day. This sentiment is not uncommon with many individuals. Regrettably, somehow this happen in many disadvantaged homes. Families/people (un)intentionally allow food to spoil and then discard it, thereby negatively impacting the environment.

The fight for a healthy planet should actually be a collective effort. The connection between food wastage and climate change underscores the need for collective action. During the recent United Nations General Assembly week, the Secretary-General reported that only about 15% of the SDGs are on track while many are regressing, eight years after their adoption (Antonio Guterres, 2023). This indicates that a comprehensive and urgent approach must be taken, not only regarding food waste but across the board with regards to the SDGs. A practical starting point is to actively participate in reducing food wastage to help achieve the SDGs.

Sometimes, climate change is explained in big terms like carbon dioxide emissions. I think getting people to understand it in simpler terms can drive action. To achieve a larger percentage of climate action, I think both the developed and the under-developed nations also have a part to play.


PS: this was edited from my LinkedIn series.

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