Will business continue to feed climate change?

Oxfam Agriculture, Climate Change, Private sector


As business representatives gather for a climate summit in London Irit Tamir explains why the food and beverage sector should play a prominent role in reducing global emissions.

The Paris Agreement marked a major breakthrough in support for climate action from the business community, and later this week business leaders will gather in London for the Business and Climate Summit to take the next step of translating the promise of Paris into real action. In a new report, Feeding Climate Change, Oxfam
highlights how the world’s food sector can play a leading role in shaping the post-Paris agenda for corporate climate action.

The food and beverage sector is one that is most at risk from climate change, and has a clear business interest in early and effective action…While the transition away from fossil fuels remains central to the Paris target of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C, this will only remain within reach with significant additional emissions cuts across all sectors of the economy over the next decade, including from the global food system that accounts for around 25% of global emissions.

The food and beverage sector is one that is most at risk from climate change, and has a clear business interest in early and effective action on both mitigation and adaptation. As an industry with such a sizable emissions footprint and one that relies on millions of farmers and agricultural workers in regions that are already being significantly affected by climate change, the sector also has a major responsibility to play a prominent role in fighting climate change.

Oxfam commissioned CE Delft to assess the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints of 17 key global food commodities. The study and an interactive map of the findings reveal the following key points:

  • Food commodities such as rice, maize and wheat have a GHG footprint that is as high or higher than that of commodities associated with deforestation. For instance, rice has a GHG footprint that is three times higher than that of palm oil.
  • Globally direct emissions from agricultural soils which includes non carbon emissions from fertilizer use and methane are at least as big a problem for climate change as land-use change attributed to the expansion of agriculture into natural forests. This is in part because non-carbon gases have a much higher global warming potential.
  • In Asia and Oceania – the region with the highest GHG footprint associated with food commodities-the biggest drivers are soil emissions associated with rice production, followed by land-use change emissions associated with palm oil, maize and wheat.
  • In Latin America, the majority of emissions are derived from land-use change associated with soybean production.
  • In North America and Europe, the biggest drivers are soil emissions associated with maize and wheat production.
  • Among the commodities with the highest GHG footprint per tonne are: cocoa from Asia and Oceania and Africa; soybean and coconut from Latin America; and coffee from Asia and Oceania.

Many food and beverage companies have already shown their willingness to lead on climate action. In the run up to Paris, the CEOs of 14 leading companies (including Ben & Jerry’s, Coca-Cola, Dannon USA, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Nestlé USA, PepsiCo and Unilever) signed an open letter in The Washington Post and the Financial Times, pledging to accelerate business action on climate change and urging governments to do the same.

Now the food and beverage sector must build on this by addressing the substantial agricultural emissions associated with their supply chains. As Kellogg and General Mills have demonstrated, the best way to do this is through setting science-based mitigation targets for their entire supply chains. The industry has an equally vital contribution to make to the new global adaptation goal of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience
and reducing vulnerability to climate change”
by placing the resilience of small-scale farmers in their supply chains at the heart of their business model.

The stage is set for the food and beverage sector to lead the way on corporate climate action by transitioning towards business models that support both mitigation and adaptation.

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Sugarcane plantation within Jatayvary Indigenous Land, Ponta Porã, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Credit: Tatiana Cardeal/Oxfam

Author: Irit Tamir
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.