Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Carbon footprinting

The carbon footprint is a consumption-based indicator used to highlight the climate impacts of a certain good or service. Carbon footprinting is based on the life cycle assessment (LCA) approach but focuses only on greenhouse gas emissions, rather than a suite of environmental areas. The “size” of the footprint is usually expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The footprint analysis considers impacts along several or all the stages of a product’s life cycle, which may span agricultural production (and the inputs to this production) through to consumption and waste disposal. The footprint approach can be used to measure the carbon impact of food at various scales; from the individual food product, to an entire meal, through to a dietary pattern of an individual or a country. Carbon footprinting may simply be undertaken by a company in order to understand the impacts of the products it sells and ascertain opportunities for improvement, but information about a product's footprint is also occasionally included on packaging in the form of a consumer-oriented label.

26 February 2019

The UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has published its 2018 environmental progress report. FDF members report a 53% reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions from energy use in manufacturing operations since 1990, and a 39% reduction in water consumption since 2008.

Image: Pxhere, Landscape grass horizon, CC0 Public Domain
26 February 2019

This paper, by John Lynch of the University of Oxford’s LEAP project, finds that carbon footprint studies of beef cattle typically do not report separate values for emissions of different greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Instead, studies generally report only an aggregated figure in the form of the 100-year Global Warming Potential (GWP100) as CO2-equivalent.

Image: Max Pixel, Cows on pasture, CC0 Public Domain
26 February 2019

This paper, by researchers from the University of Oxford’s LEAP project, models the climate impacts of beef cattle and cultured meat over the next 1000 years using a climate model that treats carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide separately, instead of using the widespread Global Warming Potential, which assigns a CO2-equivalent value to each greenhouse gas according to warming caused over a specified timeframe.​

Image: RBerteig, cool, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
29 January 2019

This paper models the system-wide changes and consequent shifts in pre-retail greenhouse gas emissions that might result from introducing a Europe- or North American-style refrigerated food chain to sub-Saharan Africa. Total emissions might increase or decrease, depending on the scenario.

Image: United Soybean Board, Soybean Field Rows, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
29 January 2019

This paper presents a ‘carbon benefits index’ to measure how land use change contributes to global carbon storage and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The index accounts for both the carbon that could be stored if the land were reforested, and the carbon emissions of producing the same food elsewhere.

Image: Red apple fruits, Pixabay, CC0 license
15 January 2019

People tend to underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions and energy use associated with different food types, according to this paper, but are likely to buy lower-emission food types when provided with information on greenhouse gas emissions.

10 December 2018

Non-profit organisation Ceres has produced an overview of resources (standards, methodologies, tools, and calculators) for assessing greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production and agriculturally-driven land use change.

10 December 2018

The Centre for Biological Diversity has calculated the emissions produced by the food offered at the ongoing COP24 climate conference, arguing that the many meat-based options mean the menu has an “unnecessarily high carbon foodprint”.

29 October 2018

A recording of the launch of the report “Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration: A Research Agenda” can be viewed here, hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The video is around one hour long and includes an overview of the report’s findings and a question-and-answer session.

Image: stu_spivack, cheese, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
29 October 2018

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%.

Image: Alan Light, GIOCO restaurant, Chicago, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
8 October 2018

FCRN member Eugene Mohareb of the University of Reading is the lead author on a paper that quantifies greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the US food supply chain. The paper argues that the majority of food system emissions could be best mitigated by urban areas and urban consumers (see below for definitions), rather by production side mitigation measures. The paper assesses how municipalities and urban dwellers might be able to contribute to deep, long-term emissions cuts along the food supply chain.

Image: Leon Brooks, Pina plantation, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain
4 September 2018

A recent paper uses data from three countries (Ghana, Mexico and Poland) to determine whether more carbon can be kept in above-ground stocks by land sparing (increasing farms yields to minimise the conversion of natural habitats to farmland) or land sharing (increasing carbon stocks on farms, at the cost of converting more natural habitat to farmland because of lower yields). Land sparing maintained the highest above-ground carbon stocks in all cases studied.

Image: Didgeman, White wine red, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons
4 September 2018

Alcohol production, packaging and transport in Sweden has a carbon footprint of 52 kg CO2 eq. per person and accounts for around 3% of dietary emissions, according to a new paper by FCRN member Elinor Hallström. Per litre of beverage, wine, strong wine and liquor have higher carbon footprints than beer. This study does not include emissions from retail or consumer activities.

17 July 2018

This book, by Klaus Lorenz and Rattan Lal, discusses the present state of knowledge on soil carbon dynamics in different types of agricultural systems, including croplands, grasslands, wetlands and agroforestry systems. It also discusses bioenergy and biochar.

17 July 2018

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has released its 2018 Progress Report to Parliament on Reducing UK Emissions. Chapter 6 focuses on agriculture and land use, land-use change and forestry. The report finds the UK agricultural emissions were unchanged between 2008 and 2016. In 2017, half of farmers did not think it was important to consider emissions when making decisions about farming practices. The forestry sector’s ability to sequester carbon has levelled off due to the average age of trees increasing relative to the past. Chapter 6 makes only passing reference to demand-side measures for agricultural emissions reductions (see Figure 6.9).

Image: sarangib, Oil Palm Tree, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons
17 July 2018

A recent paper assesses the carbon implications of converting Indonesian rainforests to oil palm monocultures, rubber monocultures or rubber agroforestry systems (known as “jungle rubber”). It finds that carbon losses are greatest from oil palm plantations and lowest from jungle rubber systems, in all cases being mainly from loss of aboveground carbon stocks. The paper points out that, “Thorough assessments of land-use impacts on resources such as biodiversity, nutrients, and water must complement this synthesis on C but are still not available.”

Image: Charles Haynes, Dosa (rice pancake) with a cup of ghee (clarified butter) at Mavalli Tiffin Room in Bangalore, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
17 July 2018

FCRN member Dr Rosemary Green of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has published a paper that calculates the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water use associated with five dietary patterns in India. As shown below, GHG emissions per capita are highest for the “rice and meat” dietary pattern (at 1.2 tonnes CO2 eq. per year) and lowest for the “wheat, rice and oils” pattern (at 0.8 tonnes CO2 eq. per year). For comparison, per capita dietary GHG emissions in the UK have been estimated at 2.6 tonnes CO2 eq. per year for high meat eaters and 1.1 tonnes CO2 eq. per year for vegans (Scarborough et al., 2014). Water use is highest for the “wheat, rice and oils” pattern and lowest for the “rice and low diversity” pattern.

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