Climate Change

WRAP report urges food industry to tackle emissions ahead of COP26

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has released a report analysing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to the UK’s food and drink industry ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

The report, titled ‘UK Food System GHG Emissions’, states that there is an ‘urgent’ need to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the food industry if the UK wishes to meet the Net Zero ambitions set out by the Government. It also places the onus on the consumer, suggesting that, societally, it is necessary to consider the ‘full, global footprint’ of the produce we pick in order to avoid reducing domestic emissions at the expense of increasing emissions elsewhere in the world.

Food wasteThe WRAP study estimates that food systems within the UK were responsible for approximately 160 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, both in the UK and overseas, in 2019 – this equates to nearly 35 per cent of UK territorial emissions. Of these emissions, 23 per cent were attributable to food waste, equalling around 36 metric tonnes. Emissions associated with the overseas production of food and drink imported, sold and consumed in the UK correspond to over one-third of this consumption footprint. The research, produced through WRAP’s development of a new Food System GHG model, asserts that a 50 per cent reduction in food-related emissions by 2030 is required to meet the IPCC’s 1.5°C pathway, which will necessitate urgent action, according to WRAP.

In advance of COP26, WRAP is urging politicians internationally to consider the food and drink industry’s contribution to climate change, encouraging talks to be tabled surrounding food system emissions. The circular charity is today (6th October) holding a briefing, ahead of the conference, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Resources Institute, in order to discuss the potential benefits of a net zero food system on the planet.

According to WRAP, the consultation will underscore the scale of emission reduction that different forms of intervention – such as zero-deforestation; decarbonising energy; decarbonising transport; and preventing food waste – could have. The body states that such interventions could facilitate the UK in meeting the Courtauld Commitment 2030 GHG target, through achieving a 50 per cent reduction in emissions associated with food and drink by 2030.

Food waste reduction intervention

As far as food waste reduction is concerned, WRAP outlines several interventions that will also see a decrease in associated emissions. It recommends the deployment of waste diversion strategies in order to halve the amount of refuse from produce that the UK generates. The report asserts, however, that what would be even more impactful would be the prevention of food waste from arising in the first instance rather than the food systems having too heavy a reliance on redirecting surplus matter.

WRAP stresses the importance of prioritising certain types of food waste that are responsible for higher emissions, such as meat. Initiatives, such as Meat in a
Net Zero World, a cross-industry platform to minimise meat waste from farm to fork, should be expanded, according to the report. The report also suggests the agricultural and food production industries commit to regular food waste reporting and more ambitious reduction targets in order to deliver this reduction in emissions.

As far as the diversion of refuse from a consumer standpoint is concerned, the report stresses the need for food waste literacy amongst the general public, with WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign being an example of what such a strategy could look like. Measures within this include clear and consistent storage and use-by date messaging on packaging; product reformulation for longer shelflife; the introduction of smaller portion sizes; and the promotion of more sustainable dietary practices.

Looking ahead to COP26

The WRAP report also highlights the areas where food system emissions have arisen, as well as detailing the changes between 2015-2019, during which time an eight per cent reduction in GHG output was achieved by the UK. It builds on the National Food Strategy and recent Courtauld 2030 progress report, both of which highlighted the significance of the food system for both territorial emissions and the nation’s wider global footprint. This reduction in emissions can be achieved largely by ensuring that existing policy, business and sector-level commitments and targets are delivered, according to WRAP, as well as through the introduction of new interventions. These efforts, however, must be delivered at pace, states the body.

Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO, commented: “Much attention will rightly be paid to energy generation and transport at COP26, but we ignore the food system at our peril. There is little talk about the contribution that strategies around food and drink can have to climate action, and it is vital we raise awareness and drive action among policymakers and businesses at COP26. That is why WRAP has set out the tangible reductions that can be made simply by focussing on food and drink as a key part of climate action.

“A 50 per cent reduction by 2030 is possible, but we need action as much as talk. And the benefits go far beyond the environment as a more sustainable food system is crucial to feed our expanding global population against a backdrop of changing climate and less predictable weather patterns. Policymakers must pay attention to the critical role food has in helping deliver Net Zero, and I intend to have those conversations at COP.”

Dr Liz Goodwin, OBE, said: “This report is a useful reminder of the scale of the challenge faced by countries aiming to achieve Net Zero targets and the important role that reducing food loss and waste can play. It comes after the UN Food Systems Summit which clearly highlighted the importance of tackling food loss and waste as part of moving to a more sustainable food system. The Champions 12.3 coalition continues to urge action by all players; governments, businesses and civil society, so that we continue to build momentum in reducing food loss and waste and deliver UN SDG 12.3”.