Is biodiversity the only ecological issue in the food sector?

Global - Mar 07 2019
  • #agriculture
  • #biodiversity
  • #climate
  • #ghg
  • #greenhouse gases

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Is biodiversity the only ecological issue in the food sector?

The preservation of biodiversity is one of the major issues when addressing the issue of ecological transition. Today, it is known that some current agricultural practices are a key cause of biodiversity degradation and are contributing to abrupt changes in our ecosystems. According to the latest report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the current decline in biodiversity could make food production much more vulnerable to shocks, such as disease and pest outbreaks, and food shortages could result from it. In addition, the food sector is also one of the sectors that contribute most to global warming, particularly through CO2 emissions from land use, processing, transport and consumption.

Distribution of global greenhouse gas emissions from food products

The February 2019 I4CE report, entitled "Estimating greenhouse gas emissions from food consumption: methods and results", estimates that global food emissions would average 14 GteqCO2, or 28% of global anthropogenic emissions. As can be seen in the graph above, a large majority of emissions are due to production (78%), i.e. field cultivation and ruminant breeding, but also emissions related to the manufacture of production inputs (fertilisers, pesticides, machinery).  

Post-production emissions are nonetheless also high (16%) with strong involvement of the transport sector. Although road freight transport is responsible for a large part of these emissions, particularly with the transportation of animal feed and bakery products, air transport accounts for a relatively high share of freight transport emissions (5%) despite the low share of traffic (0.5%), mainly for the transportation of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Consumption-related emissions are less significant (6%) and vary from one geographical area to another due to the carbon content of the region's energy mix (cf. energy sources used for cooking or storing products…). However, while waste management is the least emitting sector of the food cycle, the emissions contained in consumer food loss are more significant as they capture all cradle-to-grave life-cycle impacts. According to the report's estimate, these emissions can be assessed in the order of 1.6 GtCO2e, or 12% of the sector's emissions. The corporate food sector is therefore doubly exposed to risks related to current practices and this, in turn, can also have notable implications in terms of sovereign risk for most exposed countries.

Félix Fouret, Carbon/Climate Analyst
Source: Beyond Ratings, I4CE, ADEME

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