An estimated 14 percent of the total food produced for human consumption is lost, while 17 per cent is wasted. This is enough to feed around one billion people in a world where currently 811 million people are hungry and three billion cannot afford a healthy diet. But the loss could be saved if sustainable food cold chains are widely adopted, according to a report from the UNEP.
“As food insecurity and global warming rise, governments, international development partners and industry should invest in sustainable food cold chains to decrease hunger, provide livelihoods to communities, and adapt to climate change,” said the Sustainable Food Cold Chains report. It pointed out that food cold chains are critical to meeting the challenge of feeding an additional two billion people by 2050 and harnessing rural communities’ resilience, while avoiding increased greenhouse gas emissions.
“We strongly encourage all stakeholders to implement the findings of this report, to transform agri food systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable; to improve food security; cut greenhouse gas emissions; create jobs; and help end hunger and poverty – for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind,”said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen and FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in the Foreword.
In the report, the authors pointed out that food cold chain has serious implications for climate change and the environment. They noted that emissions from food loss and waste due to lack of refrigeration totalled an estimated one gigatonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2017 – about 2 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. They contribute especially to emissions of methane, a potent but short-lived climate pollutant.
“Overall, the food cold chain is responsible for around four percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions – when emissions from cold chain technologies and food loss caused by lack of refrigeration are included,” the UNEP report said.
“Lost food also damages the natural world by driving unnecessary conversion of land for agricultural purposes and use of resources such as water, fossil fuels and energy. Reducing food loss and waste could make a positive impact on climate change, but only if new cooling-related infrastructure is designed to use gases with low global warming potential, be energy efficient and run on renewable energy,” the report said.
The adoption of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and the Rome Declaration on “the contribution of the Montreal Protocol to sustainable cold chain development for food waste reduction” provide a unique opportunity to accelerate the deployment of sustainable food cold chains, mentions the report.
Pointing out that sustainable food cold chains are already making a difference across the world, the UNEP said that “In India, a food cold chain pilot project reduced losses of kiwi fruit by 76 per cent while reducing emissions through the expansion of use of refrigerated transport. In Nigeria, a project to install 54 operational Cold Hubs prevented the spoilage of 42,024 tonnes of food and increased the household income of 5,240 small-scale farmers, retailers and wholesalers by 50 per cent.”
To expand sustainable food cold chains globally, the report issues a series of recommendations for governments and stakeholders, including:
- Take a holistic systems approach to food cold chain provision, recognizing that the provision of cooling technologies alone is not enough.
- Quantify and benchmark the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in existing food cold chains and identify opportunities for reductions.
- Collaborate and undertake food cold chain needs assessments and develop costed and sequenced National Cooling Action Plans, backed with specific actions and financing.
- Implement and enforce ambitious minimum efficiency standards, and monitoring and enforcement to prevent illegal imports of inefficient food cold chain equipment and refrigerants.
- Run large-scale system demonstrations to show positive impacts of sustainable cold chains, and how interventions can create sustainable and resilient solutions for scaling.
- Institute multidisciplinary centres for food cold chain development at the national or regional level.