Food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste account for nearly a third of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
However, food systems are startlingly absent from most countries’ official national emissions-reduction plans, according to new research published today by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.
Food and emissions
Changing the way we produce and consume food could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by more than 10 gigatonnes a year.
This conservative estimate is slightly more than the combined emissions from global transport and residential energy use in 2019, and is equivalent to at least 20% of the cut needed by 2050 to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Food systems and climate plans
Ahead of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate mitigation, the Global Alliance has comprehensively assessed how 14 countries – including China, Germany, Senegal, the UK and the US – have incorporated food systems in their national climate plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
These assessments, country case studies and a summary report highlight the opportunities for governments to use food systems transformation to drive significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions, as well as other health, environmental and social benefits.
‘Our research reveals some alarming gaps between countries’ stated levels of climate ambition and their lack of workable plans to realise the significant benefits from changing the way we produce, process, consume, and transport food.
‘Without transforming industrialised food systems, it will be impossible to keep global warming below the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees and guarantee food security. Fortunately, our work shows that thinking about food differently opens up many pathways to lower emissions.’
Climate programme director at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food
Key findings from the report
None of NDCs fully accounts for emissions from food imports, particularly those linked to deforestation and the destruction of nature and ecosystems. New NDCs can take the lead from UK and EU pledges to tackle imported emissions, and the Glasgow Leaders’ COP26 pledge to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.