22 October 2019, 12:37 PM
  • It's a global issue that greatly affects the food and drink industry, but what’s being done to reduce emissions and plan for a brighter future?
The war on climate change

Headlines have been dominated in recent times with constant news of the devastating effects of industry and human activity on the environment, one of which is the acceleration of climate change. Martin Noponen, climate director at the Rainforest Alliance explains, “Many regions are already experiencing higher temperatures, prolonged droughts, and episodes of intense rainfall. These factors can affect agricultural production in many ways: increasing the distribution and occurrence of plant pests and diseases, disrupting pollination, or limiting uptake of necessary nutrients and therefore impacting crop yields and quality.”

It’s not all doom and gloom however, as there is much that the food and drink industry can do and is doing to help create a more sustainable environment for the future. Earlier this year the government signed legislation that made the UK the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by the year 2050, meaning that all greenhouse gas emissions need to be at net zero by that time. According to the Committee on Climate Change website, UK emissions were 44% below 1990 levels in 2018.

Helen Munday, chief scientific officer at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) commented, “The Government’s announcement to set the UK on a course towards net zero emissions of greenhouse gases was a very welcome and important step towards tackling climate change. As part of the wider food chain, food and drink manufacturers are well aware of the unprecedented pressures that climate change poses to future food production, competition for land use access and the need to tackle food waste. We have called on Government to bring forward the policies needed to meet this new challenging target. In particular, this will need to include policies on how to decarbonise heat production and to ensure that the people of the UK have access to sustainable and nutritious food.”

It’s not just the government that is making pledges; big businesses across the food and drink industry are stating their commitment to making a difference. This September Nestlé announced its aim to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Helen states that the industry is playing a positive role in building “more resilient and sustainable value chains into the future.” She explains, “Our members continue to show industry-leading dedication to achieving sustainability goals. For 2018, FDF members have once again reported reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, down 53% since 1990, and reduced water consumption, down 39% since 2008. FDF has promoted several initiatives, including the food waste campaigns Your Business Is Food and the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, and is a founding signatory of the UK Plastics Pact along with many of our members.”

Martin, Rainforest Alliance, says that climate-smart agriculture (CSA) can be used to address many climate induced challenges, an approach that combines the different dimensions of sustainable development under a climate change umbrella: “The methodology provides the tools and pathways for farmers and other stakeholders to build more resilient livelihoods and supply chains whilst helping to reduce the impact of farming on climate change. Some of the most commonly recognised CSA practices include reducing land degradation and the enhancement of agro-ecological systems and functions through appropriate soil management techniques, water conservation practices, and the establishment or improvement of agroforestry systems. At the same time, considering and developing responses to socio-economic risks and vulnerabilities such as the design and delivery of technical capacity and resources or financial safety nets must be an integral part of any CSA strategy.”

The NFU has also recently announced its plan for how the British farming industry can aim to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, unveiled in its report, Achieving Net Zero: Farming’s 2040 Goal, which sets out three pillars of activity.

Dr Jonathan Scurlock, NFU chief advisor on climate change and renewable energy, explains, “What the NFU has done is to substantially increase our level of ambition. At the beginning of this year the NFU president Minette Batters officially announced we are aspiring to getting to net zero emissions in agriculture by 2040. We have some important asks for government, which recognises how agriculture can counterbalance its emissions.”

How can the industry move forward together? “In terms of working with the supply chain we’re very keen,” he says. “We want to collaborate with processors and retailers, many of whom are themselves coming up with their own radical environmental changes, such as eliminating plastic packaging altogether or getting to net zero emissions across their own operations. Where we can collaborate with others across the supply chain our door is open to having those discussions.”

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