If food waste were a country, it would have the third highest carbon footprint behind China and the USby Kerry McMarthy / May 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
The looming climate catastrophe is our biggest environmental challenge: from extreme weather events, to rising sea levels, to the mass displacement of climate refugees and species extinction. Finding solutions can seem impossible. But some of us in parliament realise that the consequences of not rising to the challenge are simply too great.
Much of the focus since Labour’s groundbreaking Climate Change Act in 2008 has been around energy and fossil fuels, as well as transport emissions. There’s been much less talk about the environmental impact of our food and farming system.
It’s been 10 years since I first held a debate on “The environmental impact of the livestock sector” in Westminster Hall, and almost as long since Friends of the Earth supported a Private Members’ Bill on the same topic. The Sustainable Livestock Bill of 2010 was introduced by Labour MP Rob Flello, but met the same fate as most backbench bills. To say the reaction back thenwas hostile is an understatement. But now it feels like there’s been a breakthrough, and it’s been led by the public, not by politicians. This exciting moment must be seized.
A recent EAT-Lancet Commission report attributed up to 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions to the food system. Emissions from the livestock sector alone are 14.5 per cent of the total—mainly from animal feed production and processing, and what is politely described as methane emissions from ruminants. Deforestation and soil degradation remove natural forms of carbon storage, and the growing use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers is also a major concern.
Ludicrously, we waste between 30-50 per cent of the food we produce; if food waste were a country, it would have the third highest carbon footprint behind China and the US.
Without change the food and farming system will, within 30 years, single-handedly use up the total Paris Climate Agreement emissions budget. Yet it has barely featured in climate change talks—the focus has been on the impact of climate change on farming, not the other way round. According to the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, there has been no progress in reducing UK agricultural emissions for the past decade.
Hopefully the conversation is starting to change. The International Panel on Climate Change called for action last year, saying “we must limit the…