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Climate Change & Food

Towards a low-carbon food system


With a busy climate change policy and legislative agenda, we should not be short of opportunities to push food up the climate change agenda, both here in Scotland and internationally.

Find out more here about our campaign on the new Climate Bill Act for Our Future

Find out more here about our campaign for an Organic Farming target


Our food system contributes 30% of the UK’s total consumption-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This includes emissions from land use change abroad for the purpose of producing food or feed for the UK’s food system [1]. Direct emissions – excluding global land use change – account for approximately 20% of our climate footprint. The graph below shows how direct emissions are distributed along the food system.

Breakdown of food chain GHG emissions in the UK. Agriculture accounts for 40%, followed by food manufacturing and transport each at 12%, home food related is 9%, packaging and retail are each 7%, and retail, catering, fertiliser manufacture, and waste disposal are at 7%, 6%, 5% and 2% respectively

What can make our food system more climate friendly?The Climate Change talks in Paris resulted in a global agreement that countries should curb emissions as to try and limit global warming to 1,5 degrees Celsius.

Research demonstrated that a 70% reduction to food-related GHG emissions by 2050 is possible. It would require considerable political will and a significant change in food policy. It would not be easy, but it is possible and desirable.

We must change how we produce and consume food, and what food we consume. This involves both technological and behavioural change. The former includes improving the management of each stage of the food chain and adopting more efficient and renewable technologies; the latter includes shifting diets away from livestock products and towards more cereals, pulses, fruit and veg, as well as drastically cutting down food waste.

Individual or collective actions by food producers and consumers can make a big difference. But we can also as citizens demand that our representatives in Parliament and Government take bold and positive action on food and climate change. Nourish’s main policy asks with regards to climate change are the following:

  1. A Nitrogen Balance Sheet. Excessive use of nitrogen fertilisers and poor management of manure pollutes our air and water and results in high levels of nitrous oxide (NO2) emissions. Better accounting is the first step towards more efficient management. A Nitrogen Balance Sheet could help sharpen up the way we make, use and recycle nitrogen in Scotland. See our briefing here.
  2. More organic farming. The Soil Association calculated that organic farming can reduce agriculture’s emissions by 23%. Fertiliser manufacturing alone accounts for 5% of direct food system emissions. We want the Scottish Government to increase support and incentives for farmers wishing to convert to organic farming, and we want more organic food in public kitchens
  3. More agroforestry. Agroforestry has the potential to sequester considerable amounts of carbon in the soils. We want the Scottish Government to provide support and advice to farmers to help them adopt agroforestry measures.
  4. Less food waste. The Scottish Government already has an ambitious target – a 33% reduction in food waste going to landfill by 2025 – but is not currently implementing enough ambitious measures to meet that target. Much more should be done to prevent avoidable food waste through awareness raising, improved labelling, and smart regulation. And at the end of the day, all remaining food waste should be processed adequately, with a 0% landfill rate.
  5. Sustainable diets. Food Standards Scotland recently became independent and is doing very good work at promoting healthy diets. We want the Scottish Parliament to increase its remit to also promote sustainable, low-carbon diets.

How do we get there?


Find out more and get involved with our targeted campaigns:  Act for Our Future & ScotOrganicTarget


[1] Research estimated that global land use change emissions account for 40% of the emissions embedded in UK consumed food.