Youth setting the agenda: Food and agriculture


The second of two Race to Zero events hosted by Saïd Business School as part of its Leadership in Extraordinary Times series focused on agriculture and food. 

The Race to Zero is the global campaign to mobilise leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery. The aim is to create jobs and unlock inclusive, sustainable growth. The campaign – under the stewardship of the UN High Level Climate Champions is rallying ‘real economy’ leaders to join join together in the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP26), in the largest ever coalition of leaders, all committed to the same overarching goal of achieving net zero emissions no later than 2050. The first event in this series focused on transport and fossil fuels.


Aoife Brophy Haney, Departmental Research Lecturer in Innovation and Enterprise, Saïd Business School

Kaya Axelsson,  Net Zero Policy Engagement Fellow, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment,


Beatriz Perez, SVP and Chief Communications, Public Affairs, Sustainability and Marketing Assets Officer, Coca Cola

Laurent Freixe, Executive Vice President Chief Executive Officer Zone Americas, Nestle 

Anna Turrell, Head of Environment, Tesco

Bethlehem Dejene, Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Zafree Paper 

Leah Bessa, Entrepreneur and Co-Founder, Gourmet Grubb 

Rufino Escasany, Argentinian Regenerative Farmer and Co-Founder and Director Aspiring Citizens Cleantech

Kaluki Paul, Coordinator - Africa,Youth 4 Nature

Gonzalo Munoz, Chilean High Level Climate Champion for the COP25 of the United Nations Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC)

Learn more about our speakers.


Three key themes emerged:

  1. Partnerships: Collaborative action is critical to addressing system-wide issues. The discussion highlighted the particular value of developing partnerships between small, innovative food-tech companies and large food producers and retailers in order to scale-up production and distribution of plant-based and climate-friendly foods.
  2. Behaviour change: Consumers like eating meat. The development of more sustainable and plant-based foods has to be accompanied by proactive strategies to wean people off meat-based diets.
  3. A holistic approach: Sustainable products have to be accessible (affordable and attractive) to consumers; educating small-scale farmers to be more productive also needs to build in measures for the conservation of biodiversity; companies looking after their supply chains now also need to invest in their future, for example, by educating and supporting younger people to become farmers. Any action has to be considered in the context of the whole ecosystem.

The discussion brought out the complex and interrelated set of challenges that link food and agriculture with climate change, and indeed with other issues from demographics to mental health to poverty. Kaluki Paul, Youth 4 Nature Coordinator, Africa, remembered how people in his village claimed increasing amounts of land for agriculture and cut down forests for charcoal, observing that current economic models ensure that ‘the poor are left with limited options other than destroying the natural world for survival’. What Anna Turrell, Head of Environment, Tesco, called ‘a system-wide failure to price externalities into the food system’ has discouraged regenerative agriculture, encouraged meat-consumption on a disastrous scale, and made traditional and high-quality practices such as natural grassland cattle-farming hardly sustainable.

The large companies on the panel described the positive actions they were taking, including educating farmers and helping them increase their incomes, but there was a clear sense that a much greater effort and different approaches were needed. As Leah Bessa, Entrepreneur and Co-Founder, Gourmet Grubb, said, ‘We know that we have to dramatically change our food system by 2030 at the very latest, and the only way to do that is to implement radical solutions on a large scale.’

This event was brought to you by the COP 26 Climate Champions Team, the Resilient 40 and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.