Food processing, packaging, transport, household consumption and waste disposal are likely to top the greenhouse gas emitters list, said a new study by the UN agriculture agency.
The report was presented at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. The food supply chain is on course to overtake farming and land use as the largest contributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs), said the new study authored by FAO senior statistician Francesco Tubiello.
Factors unrelated to on-farm activities and land-use changes already account for more than half of the carbon dioxide emissions from agri-food systems in advanced regions and their share has more than doubled over the past three decades in developing countries.
FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero said: “The most important trend, since 1990, highlighted by our analysis, is the increasingly important role of food-related emissions generated outside of agricultural land, in pre and postproduction processes along food supply chains, at all scales.”
The new data finds that 31 percent of total anthropogenic GHG emissions or 16.5 billion tonnes originate from the world’s agri-food systems, a 17 percent increase from 1990, when the global population was smaller. The global shares are in line with previous work, indicating a range between 21-37%.
The new report found in addition that agri-food system emissions from land use changes decreased by 25 percent over that time, while emissions within the farm gate increased by only 9 percent. The report notes that this highlights how supply-chain factors are driving the increase in overall agri-food system GHG emissions,
The UN Statistics Division (UNSD), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and researchers from Columbia University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Studies collaborated with FAO in the recent analysis.
Of the 16.5 billion tonnes of Greenhouse gas emissions due to global total agri-food systems emissions in 2019, 7.2 billion tonnes came from within the farm gate, 3.5 from land use change and 5.8 billion tonnes from supply-chain processes. In terms of singular components in 2019, deforestation was the largest source of GHG emissions, at 3,058 Mt CO2, followed by enteric fermentation (2,823 Mt CO, eq), livestock manure (1,315 M+ CO, eq), household consumption (1,309 M+ Co, eq), food waste disposal (1,309 M+ CO, eq), on-farm use of fossil fuels (1,021 Mt CO, eq), and the food retail sector (932 Mt Co,eq).
While the first component is declining and the second one growing only modestly, emissions from retail – including fluorinated “F gases” associated with refrigeration and with far more powerful climate impacts than CH4 or NO2 – have increased by more than sevenfold since 1990 while those from household consumption have more than doubled.
Agri-food system GHG emissions from Asia, the world’s most populous region, are far and away the greatest, followed by Africa, South America, Europe, North America and Oceania.