Knowledge for better food systems

Counting consumption carbon emissions, material flows and Ecological Footprint

This ambitious report calculates our impact both at a national and at a regional level and does so for a variety of activities, ranging from domestic electricity use, to transport, to food to banking.
This ambitious report calculates our impact both at a national and at a regional level and does so for a variety of activities, ranging from domestic electricity use, to transport, to food to banking. The report measures the total impact of UK consumption using three measures:
  1. the material flow of resources through the UK
  2. the embodied CO2 in the goods and services we consume
  3. our ecological footprint - the land required to meet our lifestyle demands.
For carbon it concludes that while per capita emissions arising from UK production are 10.8 tonnes carbon, when it comes to total consumption (ie. taking into account imports but excluding exports) the figure works out at 11.9 tonnes carbon / per capita. It also esimates that, depending on the good or service in question, imports account for between 10-30% total carbon. Food is one of the areas the study examines. It concludes that when eating at home and eating out are combined food accounts for 7% of per capita consumption emissions. However this figure is deceptively low since electricity and gas consumption, household appliances and transport are all considered as separate elements and some allocation from these should be made to food. The figure is also much lower than that calculated in the recently published Carbon Trust report (which puts carbon emissions from food at about 13.5%). A few points to note about the methodology (as far as the CO2 emissions are concerned). The method adopted is NOT life cycle analysis but the top-down input-output approach. In other words the study tracks the flow of money through the UK economy and based on what is known about the energy intensity (and energy mix) of the activity in question energy use and hence CO2 emissions are calculated. As such it gives a general indication of the relative magnitude of different goods, different activities and so forth but much of the detail, the exceptions, the anomalies and so forth are not picked up on. For overseas activities a level of energy use and intensity similar to what would be the case if the good or service were produced in the UK is assumed (and as the report acknowledges, as such is may be underestimating overseas emissions). It is also important to stress that the report only looks at CO2 and not the other greenhouse gases. This means that food related contributions to climate changing emissions will be very significantly under-calculated. The report is however fascinating and for those interested in their particular regions (Wales comes out best in terms of its ecological footprint!) there is masses of detail here. Finally the report comes to the following grim conclusion: "A One Planet Economy will require a 75 per cent reduction in resource flows and the Ecological Footprint – this is commonly known as a Factor Four reduction. This is a hugely challenging target. But it is essential to long-term sustainability, even if achieved at the distant horizon of 2050. A Factor Four reduction in resource consumption means a year-on-year reduction of -3 per cent in resource flows and Ecological Footprint. Set against an economic growth rate averaging 2.25 per cent per year, this implies ‘decoupling’ economic and material growth at a rate of -5.25 per cent per year – over twice the rate seen in recent years." The report, attached below, is published by the WorldWide Fund for Nature and produced/funded by Biffaward in partnership with Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Centre For Urban & Regional Ecology (CURE) and other regional partners.
 

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