POST Online Media Lite Edition


Food systems account for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions

Christian Fernsby |
The world's food systems are responsible for more than one-third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to a pioneering new study published in Nature Food.

Article continues below

Spanning from land-use change and agricultural production to packaging and waste management, food system emissions were estimated at 18 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015.

That's 34 percent of the total, a share that is gradually declining - it was 44 percent in 1990 - even as food systems emissions kept increasing in absolute amounts.

The study, co-authored by Francesco Tubiello, a senior statistician and climate-change specialist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with researchers at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, offers a treasure trove of data and, at least as importantly, presents a new data base - EDGAR-FOOD - going back to 1990 and enabling granular tracking of ongoing and future trends.

The new tool, reliant on key land-use data from FAOSTAT, provides a complete and consistent data series spanning multiple sectors that will prove essential in the design of effective mitigation actions and transformational pathways to sustainable food systems.

It also offers more precise understanding and estimate of the climate effects of food production, distribution and consumption ahead of the landmark United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021 later this year.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land recently attributed between 11 and 19 billion tonnes of emissions per year, a wide range underscoring the need to narrow our knowledge gaps.

The EDGAR-FOOD data base represents a milestone for understanding how the global food system has developed.

It enables assessments of how changes in consumer behavior or technological evolution may impact food-system GHG emissions and can serve as a precious tool for researchers focusing on specific sectors as well as policy makers tasked with designing mitigation strategies that don't merely displace emissions to other sectors.

FAO has powerful emissions data sets on agriculture and land use and is building a new one to support the work of the UN Food Systems Summit.

Some two-thirds of the emissions from global food systems come from the land-based sector, comprising agriculture, land use and land use changes. That figure is higher for developing countries, but also declining significantly in step with decreasing deforestation and increasing downstream activities such as food processing and refrigeration.

In terms of their share of all anthropogenic GHG emissions, food systems of industrialized countries are broadly stable at around 24 percent, while in developing countries it has decreased notably - partly due to very high increases in non-food emissions - to 39 percent in 2015 from 68 percent in 1990.

Top emitters are, in order: China, Indonesia, United States of America, Brazil, European Union and India.

Production stages that bring foodstuffs to the farm gate - including inputs such as fertilizers - are now the leading contributor to overall food-system emissions, constituting 39 percent of the total. Land use and related factors contribute 38 percent, while distribution accounts for 29 percent, a share that is growing and expected to continue to do so.

Methane (CH4) accounts for around 35 percent of food system GHG emissions, broadly the same in developed and developing countries, and mostly stems from livestock raising and rice cultivation.

The research highlights how global food systems are becoming more energy intensive, reflecting trends in the retail, packaging, transport and processing sectors, whose emissions are growing rapidly in some developing countries. Industrialized countries, meanwhile, have increased emission of fluorinated greenhouse gases - which have a turbocharged effect on global warming - used in refrigeration and other industrial applications.

Refrigeration is responsible for nearly half of the energy consumption by the retail and supermarket sector, whose emissions have grown more than fourfold in Europe since 1990. Worldwide "cold chain" activities account for around 5 percent of global food-system emissions, a figure expected to increase.

It also revealed that packaging now contributes about 5.4 percent of global food-system emissions, more than any other supply-chain factor including transportation. However, emissions intensity varies notably by product, with wine and beer accounting for a significant share of packaging impacts while bananas and beet sugar have higher transportation emissions.

On average, global per capita annual food-related emissions has declined by around one third to 2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

That figure should not be understood as the same as a "consumer footprint" as these vary according to specific dietary patterns, but it can be used to benchmark national mitigation efforts to reduce GHG emissions from the food system as a whole.

What to read next

Vietnam can save $2.3 billion with efficient agriculture
Increased support for sustainable glass in Turkey
Canadian greenhouse farmers in disbelief over minimum wage announcement

U.S.: Locally heavy rain and rough surf for coastal locations

The final few days of September will feature mostly tranquil weather conditions throughout the Nation outside of a few areas expecting scattered showers and thunderstorms.


Mexican goods worth $1 billion stuck at U.S. border amid migration checks
BiH: Sarajevo Airport will build solar power plant worth $1.3m
Construction of wind farm worth $75m will start soon in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Medibank data breach costs $46.4 million


Earthquake magnitude 6.1 jolts off central Indonesia, no potential for tsunami

U.S.: Weather pattern cool and wet over next few days
Libya orders 8 officials arrested after flood disaster
Gas leak causes explosion in Iran's Bandar Abbas refinery
More than 2,200 people seek medical help after dust storm in Iran
Bermuda government hit by cyber attack


Federal spending in Pakistan must go down, says World Bank

UKHSA announces new UK based vaccine deal
Writers and Hollywood studios reached deal to end strike
Chinese cars worth $6,000 sold in Iran for $60,000
China completes drilling at 100 million tonne oilfield
Two of three ships sailing outside 'grain corridor' moor at Pivdenny port

Trending Now

Deutsche Bank subsidiary DWS to pay $25 million for anti-money laundering violations and misstatements

UK signs sixth U.S. state deal with Washington State

Dassai opens new $80 million brewery in New York

UKHSA announces new UK based vaccine deal


Italy: Government OKs 1.3bn for families

Eurasian Economic Commission extends antidumping duties on seamless stainless steel pipes from China, Malaysia
Ukraine and Canada sign updated free trade agreement
Iowa Governor announces drop in corporate tax rate again
UK signs sixth U.S. state deal with Washington State
U.S. announces $1.4 billion for 70 projects that will improve rail safety

Today We Recommend

U.S. announces $1.4 billion for 70 projects that will improve rail safety


Up to €1.7 billion for Solaria’s renewable energy rollout in Spain, Italy and Portugal

Lyon Shipyard creating 134 new jobs in Norfolk, Virginia

Enovis to acquire LimaCorporate for 800 million euros


Turkish Airlines to ground several aircraft due to Pratt & Whitney jet engines recall

HMM to open fastest shipping route from South Korea to Indonesia
Sunmaxx builds 50 MW PV thermal solar module factory in Germany
Ford halts construction of Marshall EV battery plant
Dassai opens new $80 million brewery in New York
EU imports of energy products continued to drop in Q2


65 Equity Partners appoints two senior partners

Krank appoints David McCarthy as global head of sales
Lithium Energi Exploration appoints Jason Nalewanyj as CFO
High Liner Foods appoints Paul Jewer as interim CEO
BP CEO resigns over personal relationships with colleagues, Auchincloss new interim CEO
Norgine appoints Saulo Martiniano as COO


S&P improves Pennsylvania’s rating outlook to ‘positive,’ affirms A+ long-term rating

Ukraine's GDP grows by 19.5% in Q2
Spain's economy grows 0.5 pct in Q2
Slow growth for Taiwan
Canadian economy set for another quarter of limited growth
World Bank: Tanzania's economy set to grow by 5.1 pct in 2023


KB Home Q3 revenues $1.59 billion

FedEx Q1 profit $1.08 billion
Darden Restaurants Q1 profit $194.5 million
General Mills Q1 profit $673.5 million
AutoZone Q4 profit $864.84 million
LightInTheBox Q2 revenues increased by 44.9%


Micromanaging is the worst enemy of efficiency and teamwork

Niger set to monetize massive gas reserves through Saharan natural gas pipeline
Putting the brakes on EV folly that choked the market
Oil discovery in Kavango Basin may mean huge benefits for Namibians
Cape Town and Dubai battle over Africa's energy future
Is America going to lose its superpower status?


Kyrgyzstan bans flour, wheat exports for six months

Illegal fishing: Commission identifies Trinidad and Tobago as non cooperating country
Wisconsin: Rock County deer farm confirmed with CWD
Maine: EEE confirmed in non commercial farm animals in Piscataquis County
Commissioner Harper announces eradication of secnd yellow-legged hornet’s nest in Georgia
First Eastern Equine Encephalitis case for New Jersey in 2023


Handsome bank CEOs can earn a million more than their less attractive colleagues

Investors less likely to sell losing stocks when entire portfolio is at loss
How managers can encourage employees to share their best ideas
More than 50% of software leader roles will explicitly require oversight of generative AI
Gartner survey: Half of candidates accepted job offer and backed out before starting
Educational bootcamps can help people switch careers, says study


Deutsche Bank subsidiary DWS to pay $25 million for anti-money laundering violations and misstatements

Portugal: Lisbon Court of Appeal confirms infringement by Super Bock sanctioned by AdC
Commission re-imposes €376.36 million fine on Intel for anticompetitive practices in market for computer chips
Goldman Sachs to pay SEC $6 million in penalties for providing deficient blue sheet data
Commission fines defence company €1.2 million in cartel settlement
SEC charges Aras Investment Business Group in Ponzi scheme targeting Spanish speaking U.S. investors



Iconic Buffalo Roundup in South Dakota

Urban(R)Evolution, celebration of graffiti art
151 room Taj the Trees hotel opens in Mumbai
Festival of films made by kids returns to Blatimore, Md.
World's glass blowing artists will come to Jack Pine Glass Pumpkin Festival
Cous Cous Fest in Sicily, make cous cous not war


Indian Chief, homage to glory days of American motorcycling

Ares Modena S1 is real take on Corvette
Toyota to launch new Century in Japan
Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale, pure beauty with 750 hp
Grand Soleil 40, fast and responsive boat
Zenvo Aurora, Danish miracle with turbocharged V12 engine


Yves Delorme, luxury linen for kings and you

Graff, obsession with perfection
Ballerina kitchens, the dance of style and function
Big ideas for small interiors
How to choose colors for your walls
Vintage chairs to embellish any room


Tecno Phantom flip phone, great device you shouldn't touch

HP Spectre Foldable PC, interesting laptop but $5000 for it is way too much
Deutsche Telekom Fairphone 5, sustainable and ethical smartphone you can repair yourself
Canon MS-500, ultra sensitive camera for professionals
Nikon Z 8, full frame mirrorless camera for professionals
Reed Muse 3A turntable, good design and even better music


Japan approves its first Alzheimer's drug

Aerobic and strength exercise can support better brain health in your 80s and 90s
Rhode Island suicide and crisis line calls increase by more than 50% since 988 launch
Pakistan bans Roche cancer drug pending probe into patients' blindness
Cambodia confirms first case of Zika infection since 2016
European Commission approves Menarini Group's ORSERDU (elacestrant)


Radio signals reveal secrets of hidden supermassive black holes

French airship to fly around the world nonstop without fossil fuels
Astronomers discover newborn galaxies with James Webb
Hidden ocean source of CO2 on Jupiter moon Europa
China builds first antenna for world's largest radio telescope array
James Webb and ALMA capture core of most distant galaxy protocluster