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New Report: Climate impact of food much higher than previously thought

18 January 2010

Greater effort and new approaches needed to cut emissions of the food we eat – says groups

The climate change impact of the food we eat is much higher than previously thought according to a major new report by WWF and the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), published today (Monday 18 January). [1] The two organisations believe no one solution alone can reduce emissions but that greater effort and new approaches will be needed by the industry, government and consumers if the food sector is to properly contribute to efforts to reduce climate changes emissions.

Until today most estimates of UK food-related climate emissions have put the figure at 20 per cent of total UK consumption emissions. However, How Low Can We Go reveals that when you include land use change in overseas countries, such as deforestation driven by our demand for food, the figure jumps to 30 per cent.

The report also found that:

• All stages of the UK food chain give rise to emissions, with the breakdown as follows: production and initial processing (34 per cent); manufacturing, distribution, retail and cooking (26 per cent) and agriculturally-induced land use change (40 per cent).
• Livestock farming accounts for 57 per cent of agricultural emissions and is also responsible for three quarters of land use change emissions.

WWF and FCRN are urging Government and industry decision-makers to recognise that a focus on technology alone is not enough – food consumption patterns will need to change too. Recommendations from the report include:

• a significant switch to non-carbon fuels and increased energy efficiency right across the economy; • increasing efficiency in both production and processing of food (e.g. improved crop yields, changes to animal feeds to reduce methane emissions, reducing waste by processers and adopting climate-friendly refrigeration systems); and • changes in the types of food we consume.

Adam Harrison, Senior Food Policy Officer at WWF Scotland said:

“This report shows that the full impact of the food we eat on climate change is much greater then we first thought. While Scotland has ambitious plans to expand its renewable energy supply and the farming industry is beginning to address its own emissions it is clear from this report that much more needs to be done.

“Some of the emissions, such as those caused by deforestation overseas driven by the types of food we consume here, are outside the direct control of domestic policies. Changing how and what we eat is the third part of the solution to enable Scotland to tackle its real climate change emissions”.

Tara Garnett, head of the Food Climate Research Network said:

“We now know enough to conclude that the food system contributes very substantially to the problem of climate change. We also know enough about where and how the impacts arise to start doing something about them. Business as usual is no longer an option.”


[1] This report – How low can we go: An assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope for reduction by 2050 – forms part of WWF-UK’s wider One Planet Food programme. This programme incorporates the whole food chain, from the production of commodities (like palm oil and soya) through processing and on to consumption and disposal. The goals of the programme are to radically improve the key environmental impacts of the food that is eaten in the UK, including our impact on the parts of the world richest in biodiversity. This is a complex task, and since 2008 WWF has been working in collaboration with scientists and key actors in the food system – businesses, policy makers, consumer organisations and other non-governmental organisations – to understand the impacts of the food consumed in the UK, whether grown here or imported from abroad.

How Low Can We Go? http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/how_low_can_we_go.pdf

[2] The Food Climate Research Network www.fcrn.org.uk is a UK research council-funded initiative based at the University of Surrey. Its aim is to understand how the food system contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and to research and promote ways of reducing them. Its focus is broad, encompassing technological options, behaviour change and the policy dimension.

[3] WWF Scotland is part of Stop Climate Chaos, an alliance of development, environment and civil society groups aiming for tougher action to reduce emissions - http://stopclimatechaosscotland.org

Seafood on sale at harbour-side market, Scotlan

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