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Addressing food supply chain and consumption inefficiencies: potential for climate change mitigation

Porter, Stephen D., Reay, David S.
Regional environmental change 2016 v.16 no.8 pp. 2279-2290
agricultural industry, climate change, developing countries, emissions factor, energy intake, food consumption, food production, food waste, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, harvesting, hunger, milk, people, supply chain, United Kingdom
Globally, more than 30 % of all food that is produced is ultimately lost and/or wasted through inefficiencies in the food supply chain. In the developed world this wastage is centred on the last stage in the supply chain; the end-consumer throwing away food that is purchased but not eaten. In contrast, in the developing world the bulk of lost food occurs in the early stages of the supply chain (production, harvesting and distribution). Excess food consumption is a similarly inefficient use of global agricultural production; with almost 1 billion people now classed as obese, 842 million people are suffering from chronic hunger. Given the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector, strategies that reduce food loss and wastage, or address excess caloric consumption, have great potential as effective tools in global climate change mitigation. Here, we examine the challenges of robust quantification of food wastage and consumption inefficiencies, and their associated greenhouse gas emissions, along the supply chain. We find that the quality and quantity of data are highly variable within and between geographical regions, with the greatest range tending to be associated with developing nations. Estimation of production-phase GHG emissions for food wastage and excess consumption is found to be similarly challenging on a global scale, with use of IPCC default (Tier 1) emission factors for food production being required in many regions. Where robust food waste data and production-phase emission factors do exist—such as for the UK—we find that avoiding consumer-phase food waste can deliver significant up-stream reductions in GHG emissions from the agricultural sector. Eliminating consumer milk waste in the UK alone could mitigate up to 200 Gg CO₂e year⁻¹; scaled up globally, we estimate mitigation potential of over 25,000 Gg CO₂e year⁻¹.