Diet, Food Waste & Kids In 5 Graphics
By Woody Chan 18 February, 2019
Each of us can individually act to cut agricultural GHG emissions - CWR's Chan shares 3 impactful ways
Many think of electricity generation and coal as the key driver of climate change but growing the food we eat also adds to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In fact, agriculture is on par with electricity in terms of global GHG emissions at up to 12GtCO2e and this is projected to keep on growing to 15GtCO2e by 2050 (see below).
Clearly this is wrong direction to take if we are to cut the emissions gap and slow climate change. As WRI’s new report Creating a Sustainable Food Future finds, we have to in fact cut agricultural GHG emissions to 4GtCO2e by 2050 if we are to reach the Paris Agreement target of just 2°C warming. To put it into perspective, this reduction from 15Gt CO2e to 4GtCO2e is comparable to the annual GHG emissions of the US and the EU combined.
The reality is we can all take action as individuals by changing our habits
This all seems rather daunting but the reality is we can all take action as individuals by changing our habits, from diets and food waste to having kids/pets. We go through how impactful these three actions can be below but don’t forget to also check out the whole menu of solutions in WRI’s new report.
1. Eating differently can have a big climate change impact
It may not seem obvious but according to WRI, a shift in diets is the solution that can reduce the most agricultural GHG emissions by 2050. At ~2.5 GtCO2e/yr, you could visualise this reduction as the whole of India not emitting any carbon dioxide any more.
To achieve this GHG reduction limits ruminant meat consumption to ~1.5 hamburgers per week
As WRI finds, to achieve this GHG reduction limits ruminant (cows, goats, sheep) meat consumption to 52 calories per person per day by 2050 – about 1.5 hamburgers per week. This is because of meat’s high water & carbon footprint (especially red meat).
It’s not just WRI calling for this diet shift. Researchers from the EAT-Lancet commission also recently came up with a diet that can “save lives, feed 10 billion people and all without causing catastrophic damage to the planet”. This “flexitarian” is essentially a diet of mostly plant-based foods but also small amounts of meat (see above).
How about other solutions then? If you don’t want to have a flexitarian diet what can you do instead to help mitigate the vast agricultural GHG emissions? What are the trade-offs?
2. Reducing food waste = save money + cut emissions
Globally, around one-third of food produced for human consumption (1.3 billion tonnes) gets lost or wasted every year and the chart below gives a snapshot of where this is happening.
Globally, ~1/3 of food produced for humans (1.3bn tonnes) gets wasted every year
Developed regions waste the most food, mainly in the consumption stage; while in developing regions food is lost mostly in the production and storage phase. So it’s really up to consumers in developed countries to step up.
In total, WRI estimates that reducing food loss and waste globally can reduce agricultural losses by ~1.4 GtCO2e/yr by 2050 – that is comparable to taking out the current annual GHG emissions of Canada, France and Spain combined.
Businesses have a big role to play here. Why not offer different portion sizes and save on ingredient bills? Perhaps even discount coupons to customers who “lick their plates clean”? Could those in developing countries not improve cold storage to save money and keep more food fresh? The opportunities to re-define business-as-usual are endless for the F&B industry.
3. Don’t have kids – have another steak?
Much of our agricultural emissions increase will be driven by population growth. Asia’s population boom, however, may not even peak until 2050. WRI’s report, therefore, calls for replacement-level fertility rates (2.1 children per woman), which would save almost ~1 GtCO2e/yr by 2050 – more than Germany’s current annual GHG emissions.
Could we be looking at a future where those with fewer kids get carbon subsidies?
But how about those who don’t have any kids? Perhaps they should be entitled to a larger cut of steak? Could we be looking at a future where those with fewer kids get carbon subsidies? The same could apply to pets, which account for a shocking quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production in the US. Food for thought…
From gene editing to capturing cow farts… we can do even more
As we have said before, we only have 11 years to get radical on climate change and the 3 actions outlined in the charts is a good start for each and every one of us.
But the truth is we can do even more. Gene editing is needed to improve crop yields, enteric fermentation (cow farts, essentially) has to be reduced, even revolutionary food tech like 3D printed meat could be an alternative in the near future and businesses and investors have to step in.
If it comes down to eating more meat versus keeping your pet dog… what would you choose?
For now however, what we can do is balance trade-offs between diet shifts, reducing food waste, and fewer kids/pets. So if it comes down to eating more meat and leaving food on your plate versus keeping your pet dog… what would you choose?
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