Gavin Darby Comments On The UK’s Drive Toward Net-Zero

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The Food & Drink Federation Calls On Policy Makers For Support 

The UK government’s promise to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to net- zero by 2050 is undergoing deep and wide evaluation from a number of international advisory boards, commissions and federations working to put forward concrete steps to reach the ambitious goal. As the first of the major global economies to make the commitment to end its contribution to global warming, the country will require far- reaching, transformational and swift action, unprecedented in scope, with the intention of setting the new global standard. 

“The announcement to set the UK on a course towards net-zero emissions of greenhouse gasses is a welcome and important step towards tackling climate change,” said former President of the UK’s Food & Drink Federation (FDF), Gavin Darby. “Food and drink manufacturers are well aware of the unprecedented pressures that climate change poses to future food production, competition for land use access, and the need to tackle food waste,” and the Federation – the championing body for the country’s largest manufacturing sector – is calling for new policies from lawmakers, particularly in decarbonising heat production to ensure that the country has access to sustainable and nutritious food options. 

The FDF’s requests echo the report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – the expert advisory panel informing the country’s climate strategy, appointed by the British government. Making the upgrade from the existing 2050 target put forth in 1990 calling for an 80% emissions reduction to a now net-zero goal will require legitimate policy efforts; but the CCC report also outlines the scale of the challenge, effort and scope of engagement required from both the private sector as well as the country’s consumers. 

The CCC makes note that the primary concern for food companies (in relation to emissions from food processors) is the loose policy around decarbonisation of heat production – technology that is worryingly undeveloped in comparison with renewable and low-carbon electricity generation. While food processing in the country actually yields relatively modest emissions – the food and drink sector as a whole is only responsible for 8% of the country’s industrial emissions – it is in their supply chain, upstream and downstream, that the bulk of food manufacturers’ greenhouse gas emissions are concentrated; and the heightened focus on these emissions due to the 2050 net-zero goal may increase pressure on companies to account for their indirect emissions and set targets for their reduction. 

Waste reduction and dietary changes are also key components in the net-zero goal outlined by the CCC: “Major societal change will also be required in reducing the food waste across the supply chain – from farmers to manufacturers, retailers and consumers,” the report states. Millions of tonnes of food which is wasted annually has still required the use of agricultural land in its production, generating carbon emissions in both its cultivation and disposal, says the CCC report, serving no purpose between the two stages; and while consumers are responsible for 70% of the food wasted in the UK, the net-zero goal will almost certainly increase the pressure on food companies to step up engagement on the food waste issue as the deadline grows near. 

This pressure on the industry underlies the importance of the FDF’s call for government to offer support, as eliminating food waste and developing dietary changes are areas requiring action from consumers, the changes also expose food companies to the adverse risks. To achieve the desired changes among consumers – which are absolutely crucial in reducing waste, agricultural emissions and land use – the reports say that government must play an active role in supporting retailers by way of public information and consumer education campaigns to promote the benefits of living away from red meat and dairy – the most carbon-intensive foods. 

In addition to these, the CCC report outlines a number of additional options to drive emission reductions to net-zero by 2050 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: increasing tree planting to cover the country from 13% to at least 17% by 2050 with 90 to 120 million trees of broadleaf and conifer woodland planted each year; encouraging low-carbon farming practices, like controlled-release fertilisers, to improve livestock health and slurry acidification; overhauling the country’s peatland restoration by at least 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat each year; encouraging bioenergy crops, expanding planting to around 23,000 hectares each year; and a reduction of food waste and consumption of the most carbon- intensive foods – reducing the 13.6 million tonnes of food waste produced annually by 20% and the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy by at least 20% per person.

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