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ISPRA/ROME, Italy: A paper published in Nature Food this month says supply chains are responsible for 29 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the global food sector.

In 2015 food systems produced 18 Gigatonnes of GHG emissions, some 34 percent of the global total that year.

The largest contribution came from agriculture and land use/land-use change activities (71 percent), with the remainder produced by retailers, logistics, consumers, fuel production, waste management, industrial processes and packaging.

The six top emitting economies with individual contributions larger than 6.0 percent of the GHG global total in 2015 were China, with 2.4Gt CO2e (13.5 percent); Indonesia, 1.6 Gt (8.8 percent); the US, 1.5Gt (8.2 percent); Brazil, 1.3Gt (7.4 percent); the European Union (including the UK), 1.2 Gt (6.7 percent) and India, 1.1 Gt (6.3 percent).

According to the study, GHG emissions from food distribution are on the rise due to an increase in convenience and processed food and the globalisation of food supply chains. To function, the chains require materials and energy for processing, packaging, transporting and storage. Of these, packaging had the highest emissions in 2015, contributing 5.4 percent (0.97Gt) of total food systems emissions.

Major contributors that year were the pulp and paper industry (59.9 Mt CO2e annually); aluminium production (29.9 Mt); the metal industry 10.6 Mt) and glass (4.8 Mt). Transportation contributed 4.8 percent (0.86 Gt) to food-system GHG emissions and retail 4.0 percent (0.72 Gt).

The authors note GHG emissions are generally higher for heavy or easily perishable products, and some food products have a particularly high share of emissions such as bananas and beet sugar.

The global cold chain, including both industrial and domestic refrigeration, accounted for 5.0 percent of global GHG food-system emissions in 2015 and is likely to increase as the number of refrigerators per capita rises in in developing countries.



‘Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions’ is authored by M. Crippa, E. Solazzo, D. Guizzardi, F. Monforti-Ferrario, F. N. Tubiello and A. Leip from the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome.
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