Knowledge for better food systems

Animal products are a major source of EU food emissions

Image: stu_spivack, cheese, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

This paper calculates the carbon footprints of food supply across different European Union countries. Annual footprints vary from 610 to 1460 CO2 eq. per person, with Bulgaria having the lowest footprint and Portugal having the highest footprint. Meat and eggs account for the largest share of the carbon footprint (on average 56%), while dairy products account for a further 27%.

The estimates include farm-level emissions, land use change emissions and a rough estimate of emissions from international transport.

The figure below shows annual food-related carbon footprints per person, by country.

Image: Figure 2, Sandström et al.

 

Abstract

International trade presents a challenge for measuring the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission footprint of human diets, because imported food is produced with different production efficiencies and sourcing regions differ in land use histories. We analyze how trade and countries of origin impact GHG footprint calculation for EU food consumption. We find that food consumption footprints can differ considerably between the EU countries with estimates varying from 610 to 1460 CO2-eq. cap−1 yr−1. These estimates include the GHG emissions from primary production, international trade and land use change. The share of animal products in the diet is the most important factor determining the footprint of food consumption. Embedded land use change in imports also plays a major role. Transition towards more plant-based diets has a great potential for climate change mitigation.

 

Reference

Sandström, V., Valin, H., Krisztin, T., Havlík, P., Herrero, M. and Kastner, T., 2018. The role of trade in the greenhouse gas footprints of EU diets. Global Food Security, 19, pp.48-55.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource resource What are the main GHG contributions to agricultural emissions?

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Europe

Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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