The Uneaten Apple That Worsens Climate Change

Food loss and waste worsen the scarcity of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions from human activities with no purpose. Reducing food loss and waste can contribute towards environmental sustainability and limit the influence of the food system on climate change, increasing economic efficiency and food security at the same time. A new FAO report suggests how.

Food loss

The Food Loss Index, calculated by FAO, is one of the indicators set to measure progress towards SDG target 12.3. Food loss refers to the first part of the supply chain, from post-harvest up to (but not including) retail.

Food waste

Estimates for the Food Waste Index, the other indicator for SDG 12.3 with which UNEP will calculate food waste in the downstream supply chain, are forthcoming. They will probably equal or slightly overtake estimated losses, as the latest estimates of the total amount of food loss and waste are about 30 percent (FAO, 2011).

Footprints of food loss and waste

As the report highlights, food loss and waste can and must be reduced for three main reasons. The first is economic: by improving the efficient use of resources, societal well-being and economic growth can be improved.

Relative contributions of the main food groups to overall food loss and waste and their carbon, blue-water and land footprints. Source: The State of Food and Agriculture 2019, page 94

Reducing carbon footprint

Between 21% and the 37% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are due to pre- and post-production activities in the global food system, and 8–10% are caused by global food loss and waste (2010–2016), warns the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land. At the same time, climate change is exerting even higher pressure on land and water, which are already undergoing human pressure, as a result of the rising population and well-being that lead to increased demand for agricultural products by 35–50 percent between 2012 and 2050, according to FAO. Addressing food loss and waste is included by the IPCC among both adaptation and mitigation response options, as they help reduce the land area needed for food production while contributing to lower GHG emissions per unit of food consumed.

Carbon impact factor (tonne CO2 eq./tonne maize). Source: The State of Food and Agriculture 2019, page 98

Addressing trade offs

When designing policies for reducing food loss and waste it is crucial to define the environmental priorities and to minimize possible trade-offs that can emerge between different environmental objectives. For example, improving packaging can allow food to reach the latest stage of the supply chain intact, thus reducing loss and waste; but packaging has environmental and climate impacts linked to its production and disposal.

Euro-Mediterranean Center on #ClimateChange: integrated, multi-disciplinary and frontier research on climate science and policy.

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