UNFSS Academic Advisory Council Webinar

Roundtable: Sustainability Standards and Environmental Concerns

Virtual Webinar

10 February 2021, 2:00pm – 3:30pm (CET)


14:00 – 14:05

Opening Introduction by

Rita Mendez, Senior Coordinator, Impacts and Evidence, Evidensia

14:05 – 14:15

Setting-the-Scene by

·        Santiago Fernandez de Cordoba, Senior Economist and UNFSS Coordinator, UNCTAD

·        Axel Marx, Deputy Director, Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, University of Leuven

14:15 – 14:55

Impulse givers:

·        Graeme Auld, Professor, Public Affairs Research Excellence Chair, and Director of Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration

·        Eric Lambin, Professor, University of Louvain and Stanford University

·        Benjamin Cashore, Li Ka Shing Professor in Public Management and Co-Director, Institute of Water Policy, National University of Singapore

14:55 – 15:25

AAC members Roundtable

Moderated by Ruby Lambert, Sustainability Officer, UNCTAD

15:25 – 15:30

Concluding Remarks by

Vidya Rangan, Senior Manager, Impacts and Evidence, Evidensia



Human’s impact on the environment led to changes that triggered environmental crisis, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and deforestation, among others. Climate change is one of the most concerning issues of our day; it Interrupts national economies and affects lives. Its impacts such as severe storms, heatwaves and the melting of glaciers and ice sheet are accelerating. Biodiversity loss is another significant concern, a 2019 report that assessed a total of 28,000 plant species concluded that close to half of them were facing a threat of extinction.[1]

The consequences of this crisis are not limited to the environmental impacts only, however, go beyond that to causing economic and social distortions. Climate change affects global food production and widens the inequality gap in food supply between developing and developed countries. The 40 poorest countries in the tropical and subtropical zones will suffer most, both from droughts and periodic floods.[2] Moreover, agriculture, a significant source of income and trade for developing countries, is seen as a cause and victim of the various environmental problems. It contributes substantially to climate change via emissions of methane and nitrous oxides. It is also responsible for 70 per cent of projected losses in terrestrial biodiversity due to widespread land conversion, pollution and soil degradation.[3] On the other hand, Climate change is expected to change agricultural production dramatically.

To tackle the current environmental concerns and support the needs of the present and future generations, the  United Nations 2030 Agenda signifies the areas of critical importance to protect the planet, through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing the natural resources, and taking urgent action on climate change. A UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s  (IPCC) report (2018) states that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.[4] Also, the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (GBO-5), published by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) calls for a shift away from “business as usual” across a range of human activities and for transitioning to sustainable pathways that recognize the value of biodiversity, among others.[5]

Moving towards a more sustainable future, therefore, would require a paradigm shift that employs remarkable tools and instruments.  This raises questions about the potentiality and credibility of the sustainability standards as tools that contribute to the environmental concerns.

[1] McKim S & Halpin C., (2019). ‘Plant blindness’ is obscuring the extinction crisis for non-animal species. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/plant-blindness-is-obscuring-the-extinction-crisis-for-non-animal-species-118208

[2] https://orgprints.org/13414/3/niggli-etal-2008-itc-climate-change.pdf

[3] https://www.iisd.org/system/files/publications/voluntary-sustainability-standards-biodiversity-policy-brief.pdf

[4] https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/

[5] https://www.cbd.int/gbo/gbo5/publication/gbo-5-en.pdf


Transitioning to Sustainable Pathways: The role of Sustainability Standards

Sustainability Standards are special rules that guarantee the products you buy do not hurt the environment and the people that produced them. It has emerged as new tools to address key sustainability challenges such as biodiversity, climate change and human rights. Today, sustainability standards such as Better Cotton Initiative, Fairtrade, FSC and the Roundtable for Sustainable Biomaterials will be able to define standard practices to calculate carbon reductions. A company purchasing certified products for example, will be able to report lower emission factors for these commodities in line with the greenhouse gas protocol. Most importantly, for producers, this increases the value of their certified commodities by not only ensuring that production processes are equitable and sustainable but by also adding another quantified, verified impact that companies can claim toward increasingly important climate commitments.[1]

[1] https://www.goldstandard.org/blog-item/sustainability-standards-join-forces-scale-climate-impact


The Dialogue

Through this roundtable discussion, The UNFSS’s Academic Advisory Council (AAC) members are brought together to foster the debate on sustainability standards and environmental concerns and to discuss the potentiality of sustainability standards to contribute to mitigating the current environmental crisis and/or to prevent harming the environment. Through the knowledge exchange and policy dialogues, this roundtable discussion will help in providing inputs and developing a common foundation upon which further research and discussion in this area could be conducted. This dialogue is compounded with questions such as:

  1. What are the opportunities and limitations of VSS to address climate, biodiversity and deforestation?
  2. To what extent could sustainability standards contribute to the transformation of the way things are done, and to what degree could they lead the way in addressing environmental concerns?
  3. How to balance productive efficiency of agriculture while preserving biodiversity and mitigating climate change? Is there a role for VSS to support this balance?

UNFSS is an initiative of 5 UN agencies: UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Trade Centre (ITC), UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and UN Environment. UNFSS addresses the sustainable development value of Sustainability Standards by pooling resources, synchronizing efforts, and assuring policy coherence through a multi-stakeholder approach.