Less food waste, less emissions

A new study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows that reducing food waste could help mitigate climate change. Agriculture accounts for around 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Around one third of global food production never it makes it to our plates, writes the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). This figure is likely to increase if countries such as China and India adopt Western food habits.

But as a new study from PIK shows, not only will reducing food waste improve food security, it could also help prevent the impact of climate change, such as intense weather extremes and sea-level rise, explains lead author of the study Ceren Hic.

“Agriculture is a major driver of climate change, accounting for more than 20 per cent of overall global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2010. Avoiding food loss and waste would therefore avoid unnecessary greenhouse-gas emissions and help mitigate climate change,” adds co-author Prajal Pradhan.

The researchers found that while the global average food demand per person has remained constant, food availability has rapidly increased over the past five decades in a linear relationship with human development. This indicates that “richer countries consume more food than is healthy or simply waste it,” says Pradhan.

As a result, greenhouse gas emissions from food waste could increase dramatically from today’s 0.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents to 1.9 or even 2.5 gigatonnes by 2050.

But emissions related to food waste are just “the tip of the iceberg”. Demographic growth and lifestyle changes are expected to propel agriculture emissions by up to 18 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents by 2050.

While such findings appear grim, the researchers also found that 14 per cent of the projected 2050 emissions could be easily avoided by improved agricultural practices in developing countries, a more efficient food supply chain, and changes to individual behaviour in Western countries.


Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture, flickr/Creative Commons

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