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Reducing food waste could mitigate climate change, say researchers

Reducing food waste could mitigate climate change say researchers
German researchers have published a report that suggests that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced as a result of food surplus have increased by over 300 per cent in the last 50 years.

The report, ‘Food surplus and its climate burdens’, has been published by a team of scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). It states that as well as ensuring improved food security, reducing food waste could help mitigate dangerous climate change.

The research projects food loss and its associated CO2 emissions for different countries around the world. It predicts that by the year 2050, approximately one tenth of total global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions could be due solely to food waste. Reducing food waste could therefore help mitigate climate change in addition to fighting hunger.

1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted every year

The researchers at PIK estimate that currently 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year is wasted globally with one third of food produce ‘never finding its way onto our plates’. Their study suggests that adjusting food consumption and having a more sustainable approach to food production could have positive effects on the environment.

During the study, which the institute says ‘sheds light on the complex interplay of food security and climate change’, past body types and food requirements were analysed as well as those from several predicted future scenarios.

The research revealed that although the global average food demand had remained constant, the general availability of food had dramatically increased in the last 50 years. The difference between food availability and demand was deemed to be food waste.

The researchers foresee this figure increasing and predict that CO2 emissions associated with wasted food could increase by 500 million tonnes to 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year by 2050, especially if developing countries such as China and India adopt ‘western nutrition lifestyles’. Previous research has implied that emissions due solely to agriculture are expected to increase by up to 18 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents by 2050.

PIK researchers claim that more research is needed into how the food chain can be made more efficient and into how consumers can be encouraged to reduce food waste.

Avoiding food loss could “help mitigate climate change”

The report’s co-author Prajal Pradhan explains: “Agriculture is a major driver of climate change, accounting for more than 20 per cent of overall global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2010. Avoiding food loss and waste would therefore avoid unnecessary greenhouse-gas emissions and help mitigate climate change.

“More importantly, food availability and requirement ratio show a linear relationship with human development, indicating that richer countries consume more food than is healthy or simply waste it. Thus, emissions related to discarded food are just the tip of the iceberg.

“However, it is quite astounding that up to 14 percent of overall agricultural emissions in 2050 could easily be avoided by a better management of food utilisation and distribution. Changing individual behavior could be one key towards mitigating the climate crisis.“

Jürgen Kropp, co-author and Deputy Chair of PIK research domain Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities, said: “As many emerging economies like China or India are projected to rapidly increase their food waste as a consequence of changing lifestyle, increasing welfare and dietary habits towards a larger share of animal-based products, this could over proportionally increase greenhouse-gas emissions associated with food waste – at the same time undermining efforts for an ambitious climate protection.

“Avoiding food loss could pose a leverage to various challenges at once, reducing environmental impacts of agriculture, saving resources used in food production, and enhance local, regional, and global food security.”

Reducing food waste could mitigate climate change say researchers
Global coalition to fight food waste

In January, a coalition of 30 government ministers, executives of research institutions, farmer organisations and civil society groups from across the world was launched to accelerate progress on the reduction of global food loss and waste.

Champions 12.3, which was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, aims to reduce food waste and loss globally to meet target 12.3 of the UNs Sustainable Development Goals, which is to halve per capita food waste by the year 2030.

The coalition, chaired by the Group Executive Officer of Tesco, Dave Lewis, seeks to lead by example, motivate others and communicate the importance of food loss and waste reduction. It will also showcase successful strategies and encourage investment and innovation.

The ‘Food surplus and its climate burdens’ report can be read on the ResearchGate website. More information about the Champions 12.3 coalition can be found at the group’s website.