How much do food miles matter; should you buy local produce?

Despite a study claiming that food-mile emissions are higher than previously thought, eating less animal produce remains much more important than how far your food travels

Eat locally to reduce food miles and your carbon footprint. That is the message promoted by some environmentalists and businesses, but it has long been clear that often this isn’t true – foods that travel thousands of kilometres can have a lower carbon footprint than local produce.

At least, that is what many studies have found. But research published today in the journal Nature Food claims that global food miles account for 20 per cent of food-related emissions – a much higher proportion than reported in earlier work. So do food miles matter more than we thought? Spoiler: no, they don’t.

The production of the food we eat is responsible for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing food-related emissions is crucial to limiting further global heating. The question is, what should consumers do to help reduce these emissions?

 

Previous studies have found that the emissions from food miles – the distance that food has to be transported from where it is produced to where it is eaten, measured in kilometres travelled multiplied by the tonnage – are tiny compared with those from growing that food.

Emissions can be calculated based on how the food is transported – by air or by sea, for instance. A study of US diets by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania concluded that transporting food from farms to shops produces just 4 per cent of food-related emissions, while a 2018 study of European diets put it at 6 per cent.

What this means is that if you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your diet, you should focus on buying foods with lower overall carbon footprints rather than those that don’t have to travel far. This basically means eating less meat and dairy.

For instance, producing 1 kilogram of beef can emit as much as 99 kg of carbon dioxide or equivalents, and making a kilogram of cheese emits up to 24 kg, compared with 0.9 kg for bananas and 0.4 kg for apples.

In other words, what you eat matters to a far greater extent than where it comes from. What’s more, even with the same food types, local isn’t always better. For instance, if you live in a nation with a cooler climate where tomatoes can be grown only using heated greenhouses, these local tomatoes will typically have a higher carbon footprint than those shipped in from a warmer country where no heating is needed.

The latest study doesn’t overturn any of this. For starters, the main reason why it concludes that food miles account for such a high proportion of food-related emissions is that the 20 per cent figure includes all the transport involved, including that of fertilisers, farm equipment and pesticides, not just the transport of food.

“Our study looks at the entire supply chain for food consumption, and naturally non-food commodities are part of it,” says team member Mengyu Li at the University of Sydney in Australia.

It is worthwhile to estimate this, but the team should use a term other than “food miles” to avoid confusion, rather than redefining the existing term, says Hannah Ritchie at the University of Oxford, who is head of research at Our World in Data.

If the standard definition were applied to the numbers in the study, food miles would account for only 9 per cent of food-related emissions, says Ritchie. That is much closer to previous research, though she thinks it is still an overestimate.

What’s more, the study itself calculates that even if it were possible to produce all food in the countries where it is eaten, food-related emissions would fall by only 1.7 per cent overall. This is because although food wouldn’t travel as far, more of it would be transported by road instead of sea, says Li, and trucks produce higher emissions per tonne of cargo than ships.

“So, overall, the bottom line is still that what you eat has a much bigger impact on emissions than the distance that food has to travel to reach you,” says Ritchie.

A third of the world’s largest companies now have net-zero targets

Since this time last year, many more countries and large companies have now pledged to reduce their net emissions to zero, but the details on how they plan to achieve it are still lacking

More than a third of the world’s largest public companies, along with countries representing most of the world’s economy, now have targets to reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions to zero. However, many of these “net-zero” pledges are lacking basic details about how they will be achieved or verified.

A research consortium called the Net Zero Tracker took stock of the publicly available climate pledges of more than 4000 entities, including cities, states, countries and publicly trading companies. What emerged in its report was “a good news story, in that net-zero pledges have become mainstream”, says Steve Smith at the Oxford Net Zero Initiative, one of the consortium’s members.

Read this story here

Europe must tackle its energy crisis now or face a very painful winter

When new energy security strategies for Europe arrive, it is essential that they align with climate change goals. False solutions abound, such as kick-starting a UK fracking industry, even though that has already been tried without success.

Thankfully, the answers are already clear. Wind and solar power should be turbocharged, and ideological barriers such as vetoes for onshore turbines in England must be lifted. More electricity links are required between countries, like the UK-Denmark one due to be finished next year. Energy efficiency needs serious government support, and electrification of cars and heating must be accelerated. And, yes, some mix of nuclear power, more energy storage or carbon-capture power stations will be required to support renewables when the sun isn’t shining.

Individuals can’t solve the climate or energy crises on their own, but there are things homeowners can do to help. People on lower incomes need support to cope with high energy prices. But for those able to pay, there has never been a better time to “repair” that roof, with proper insulation and solar panels. Winter is sooner than you think. Let’s seize the opportunity to make sure we weather it.

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Do not work for ‘climate wreckers’, UN head tells graduates

The UN secretary general has told new university graduates not to take up careers with the “climate wreckers” – companies that drive the extraction of fossil fuels.

António Guterres addressed thousands of graduates at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, US, on Tuesday. “You must be the generation that succeeds in addressing the planetary emergency of climate change,” he said. “Despite mountains of evidence of looming climate catastrophe, we still see mountains of funding for coal and fossil fuels that are killing our planet.

“But we know investing in fossil fuels is a dead end – no amount of greenwashing or spin can change that. So we must put them on notice: accountability is coming for those who liquidate our future.”

He added: “You hold the cards. Your talent is in demand from multinational companies and big financial institutions. You will have plenty of opportunities to choose from. My message to you is simple: don’t work for climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future.”

Guterres has become increasingly outspoken on the climate crisis in recent months, telling world leaders in April: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is killing us.”

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Farmers in England will bury burnt wood in fields to capture CO2

A large trial is underway to see how much CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere by burying a charcoal-like material in fields
Biochar

Farmers in England are starting to bury a charcoal-like material in their fields to see if it could offer a new large-scale way of putting the brakes on climate change.

Biochar is the carbon-rich material left over from burning wood and other biomass at high temperatures in an oxygen-free environment. Most of its use today is at the small scale, such as gardeners using it as a fertiliser.

However, a team led by Colin Snape at the University of Nottingham, UK, has started burying up to 200 tonnes of biochar in fields to gauge if it could help meet the UK’s net-zero goal by removing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is the biggest biochar trial yet in the UK, and one of several CO2 removal ideas in a £31.5 million research programme, including scattering rock dust on fields and planting more trees.

 

“The key thing is that all of these greenhouse gas removal technologies, we need to test their viability. We need to figure out how big a slice of the pie biochar is. It’s about not putting all our eggs into one basket, of one magical technology that will save us,” says Genevieve Hodgins, who is managing the biochar project.

Around 15 tonnes of biochar is in the ground already, and more farmers are being recruited across the Midlands region of England this spring and summer to begin widespread burials this autumn. Beyond tackling climate change, a big attraction for farmers is that research indicates biochar can improve soil health, which is in a parlous state in England.

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Shell consultant quits, accusing firm of ‘extreme harms’ to environment

Caroline Dennett tells staff in video she made decision because of ‘double-talk on climate’

A senior safety consultant has quit working with Shell after 11 years, accusing the fossil fuel producer in a bombshell public video of causing “extreme harms” to the environment.

Caroline Dennett claimed Shell had a “disregard for climate change risks” and urged others in the oil and gas industry to “walk away while there’s still time”.

The executive, who works for the independent agency Clout, ended her working relationship with Shell in an open letter to its executives and 1,400 employees. In an accompanying video, posted on LinkedIn, she said she had quit because of Shell’s “double-talk on climate”.

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Climate group sues Dutch airline KLM over ‘greenwashing’ advert

Environmental campaigners are suing the Dutch airline KLM over “greenwashing” adverts they say misleadingly promote the sustainability of flying.

Lawyers from ClientEarth are supporting Fossielvrij NL, a Netherlands-based campaign group, to bring a claim that KLM’s ad campaigns give a false impression of the sustainability of its flights and its plans to address its impact on the climate.

“KLM’s marketing misleads consumers into believing that its flights won’t worsen the climate emergency. But this is a myth,” said Hiske Arts, a campaigner at Fossielvrij NL.

“Unchecked flying is one of the fastest ways to heat up the planet. Customers need to be informed and protected from claims that suggest otherwise.”

Activists from Fossielvrij NL submitted a pre-action letter to Air France KLM, KLM’s parent company, during its AGM in Paris on Tuesday. Their legal action takes aim at KLM’s “Fly Responsibly” campaign, which presents the airline as “creating a more sustainable future”.

Read here:
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/may/24/climate-group-sues-dutch-airline-klm-over-adverts

Executive pay system is broke

The system of executive pay is “broken”, the Church of England’s pension board has said, as it challenged more companies to ease the pain of soaring inflation by committing to paying workers the living wage.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/may/19/next-shareholders-agree-to-44m-pay-package-for-chief-despite-opposition?utm_term=62872e62da683c87d583e2df4151e534&utm_campaign=FirstEdition&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=firstedition_email

The Helsinki neighbourhood leading the way to zero-carbon cities

Kalasatama, a former cargo port in Finland’s capital, is acting as a test bed for new ideas that could help the city reach a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2040

A neighbourhood in the shadow of a coal power station on the outskirts of Helsinki, Finland, might seem an unlikely place to envangelise about its environmental credentials.
But here in the former cargo port of Kalasatama, a 31-year mega project is under way to build a model green urban district that should eventually be home to 30,000 people.
About 9000 have already moved in. “It’s getting better and better by the day,” says Hetta Huittinen-Naskali, who has lived in Kalasatama for four years. “What I like is that there are always people moving around.”
For her, that means walking, the city’s popular bike-hire scheme, the metro and, in her husband’s case, a car too.
The neighbourhood is billed by city authorities as a test bed for new ideas that might be rolled out to the rest of the capital: last year saw a driverless bus pilot project and robots delivering food to older residents.
Perhaps most importantly, the area is grappling with ways to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels to meet Helsinki’s goal of absolutely zero carbon emissions by 2040.

READ: newscientist.com article here

This climate crisis report asks: what is at stake? In short, everything

Analysis: Major IPCC report, approved by 195 countries, lays bare devastating harm caused by unchecked global heating

“A liveable and sustainable future for all”. It is the very last words of the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that spell out what is at stake. In short, it is everything.
 
The damage from global heating is already hitting hard. The comprehensive IPCC assessment, which is based on 34,000 studies, documents “widespread and pervasive” impacts on people and the natural world from increasingly frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms and floods. Some impacts are now irreversible.
 

Can a tech billionaire squash Australia’s coal industry by buying it?

Frustrated with the Australian government’s inaction on climate change, software king Mike Cannon-Brookes is trying to buy several big coal plants so he can shut them down in favour of renewables

Mike Cannon-Brookes, the third-richest person in Australia, has launched an audacious bid to buy the country’s biggest electricity company – and shut its coal-fired power plants. It is a bold approach to decarbonisation, but can he pull it off?

Australia currently produces the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world from burning coal for power generation. The country’s government is highly attached to fossil fuels. Not long before becoming the current prime minister, Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal to parliament and announced: “This is coal. Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you.”

Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of software giant Atlassian, has been a vocal critic of the government’s climate inaction. Now, he is using his net worth of A$20 billion to try to take matters into his own hands.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2309157-can-a-tech-billionaire-squash-australias-coal-industry-by-buying-it/

Climate change: Can the UK afford its net zero policies?

With the cost of living rising, are Britain’s plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions too expensive?

 

A small but vocal group of Conservative MPs are arguing that with energy prices soaring, the government should rethink how it reaches what’s known as ‘net-zero’ by 2050.

The group has made a number of key arguments. So what are they saying, and what does the data tell us?

Three years ago the goal of net-zero was written into UK law with the backing of MPs from all sides.

Broadly speaking it’s a commitment to transform the way our economy operates.

Net-zero means not adding to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Achieving it means reducing emissions as much as possible, as balancing out any that remain.

There’s consensus among the world’s scientists that it’s vital if we’re to have a chance of keeping global temperature rises to manageable levels.

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Plastic packaging increases fresh food waste

Supermarkets should stop selling fresh produce such as apples and potatoes in plastic packaging, research suggests, because it does not make them last longer and adds to pollution and food waste.

The 18-month study by the sustainability charity Wrap, which also looked at sales of bananas, broccoli and cucumbers, debunks the idea that single-use plastic wrappers help prevent waste.

Instead, this packaging often forces people to buy more than they need, increasing the problem of wasted food.

Read the article

After deadly floods, can Germany adapt to its climate future?

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepares to release a major report on adapting to climate change, Adam Vaughan visits the site of 2021’s deadly floods in Ahr, Germany, to discover how locals are rebuilding.

“I SAW a tree with people sitting in it, crying and screaming. I could hear them despite all the noise.
But I couldn’t help them. I didn’t know what to do,” says Melanie Schultz-Coerne, crying too as she recalls the traumatic night last year when Germany experienced its worst floods in six decades.
She doesn’t know what happened to the campers she saw, but 134 people in the country’s Ahr valley died during the floods in mid-July, with hundreds more injured.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25333754-200-after-deadly-floods-can-germany-adapt-to-its-climate-future/

Oil firms’ climate claims are greenwashing, study concludes

Most comprehensive scientific analysis to date finds words are not matched by actions

Accusations of greenwashing against major oil companies that claim to be in transition to clean energy are well-founded, according to the most comprehensive study to date.

The research, published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, examined the records of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP, which together are responsible for more than 10% of global carbon emissions since 1965. The researchers analysed data over the 12 years up to 2020 and concluded the company claims do not align with their actions, which include increasing rather than decreasing exploration

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/16/oil-firms-climate-claims-are-greenwashing-study-concludes?utm_term=620dd653293a7d76d3b14b06409ae6d9&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUK&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=GTUK_email