Food sector has to tackle fossil fuel reliance

The build up to the COP 28 summit in the UAE has continued with a warning the world’s food industry “has a fossil fuel problem”.

The Global Alliance for the Future of Food and Dalberg Advisors  has issued a new report that found that food production, transport, and storage account for at least 15% of fossil fuels used annually (4.6 Gigatonnes CO2-equivalent), driving at least as many emissions as all EU countries and Russia combined.

The two companies says it is the first time that researchers have estimated the global use of fossil fuels across the entire food supply chain, from farm to plate. The Reported added even if all governments delivered on their 2030 climate pledges, fossil fuel use in our food system would still blow our 1.5C carbon budget by 2037.

“As the use of fossil fuels for transport and power declines with the uptake of renewable energy, the report also reveals how the fossil fuel industry is investing heavily in petrochemicals to make plastics, pesticides, and fertilizers in order to lock-in the dependence of food systems on high-carbon energy. Investments in petrochemicals worth $164 billion were projected for 2016-2023 in the US alone,” the report explained. “Food-related plastics and fertilizers together represent approximately 40% of petrochemical products.”

Patty Fong, programme director at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, said: “Industrial food systems have a fossil fuel problem. To prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, we need to urgently wean our food systems—alongside other economic sectors—off fossil fuels. Shifting away from fossil fuel dependency towards renewable energy and regenerative and agroecological farming would not only protect our planet, but make food more affordable, enhance food security, create jobs, improve health, and help tackle hunger.”

Ahead of COP28, the report calls on policymakers and donors to phase out the use of fossil-fuel based agrochemicals; shift to renewable energy for food processing; reassess subsidies to biogas and biofuel producers; address corporate consolidation among the food industry and petrochemical and plastics companies; and invest in sustainable farming practices such as agroecology and regenerative agriculture. It also calls for greater collaboration between policymakers, investors, funders, civil society, and researchers on food and energy issues—experts who are currently too often siloed in research approaches.

“It highlights that we must work together to transition away from fossil fuels and toward a sustainable future in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement,” The Global Alliance added. “The report summarises the new research in our accompanying Discussion Paper. The Discussion Paper explores the interconnectedness between food and energy systems, emphasizing the role of fossil fuels. This paper delves into the trade-offs, synergies, gaps, and opportunities that arise within this nexus. It highlights opportunities for enhanced collaboration among policymakers, funders, and advocates working across the food–energy nexus to reduce fossil fuel usage in food systems.”

Alex Cheval, associate partner of Dalberg Advisors, said: “Current trends, such as the growing consumption of processed foods, will only entrench industrialized food systems’ dependence on fossil fuels. But there are steps we can take now to reduce this reliance, as well as a clear opportunity to transform food systems for the good of society and the environment.”