Part of the solution or the problem? Industry reacts to stark climate change warnings

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10 Oct 2018 --- Climate change is a hot topic for the food industry with many key players setting ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut down on waste, use energy efficiently and streamline strategies to tackle what is a profound challenge with direct implications on food safety, supply chains and raw materials. The notion of how big business will contribute to the fight against climate change is one of the key issues being debated after a leading body of experts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued its starkest warning yet this week.

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, according to the latest report from the world's leading body of climate change experts.

With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society, says the IPCC report which follows three years of research. 

The study says that a rise of more than 1.5°C is risking the plant’s livability and this could be exceeded by 2030 unless drastic steps are taken now. 

This level of warning raises questions about how society can save the world from “climate catastrophe” and how opportunities remain open for consumers and corporations to work harder to fulfill the unprecedented nature of the changes that are required to limit warming to 1.5°C. This includes changes to energy systems, changes to the way land is managed, “changes to the way we move around with transportation,” according to Professor Jim Skea, who co-chairs the IPCC.

How are some of the key players in the food industry reacting?
Global corporation Cargill – which trades, purchases and distributes grain and other agricultural commodities and produces food ingredients such as starch and glucose syrup, vegetable oils and fats for application in processed foods and industrial use – says its a vocal advocate for the critical role business plays in tackling climate change. 

“The latest IPCC report reaffirms that we cannot ignore the impact of a changing climate,” a Cargill spokesperson tells FoodIngredientsFirst

“Business has a critical role to play and Cargill is a vocal advocate – both through our support of the Paris climate agreement and by encouraging immediate action through an open letter to the president earlier this year.” 

“We’ve set commitments to drive near-term reductions through our operations and will reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions in our operations by 10 percent by 2025 (2017 baseline). This is a science-based target in line with the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

“We continue to assess our Scope 3 impact and potential reduction opportunities while staying focused on driving the right research and program investment to reduce our impact.”

FoodIngredientsFirst also recently spoke to Julian Chase, CEO, Cargill Starches, Sweeteners and Texturizers, about climate change, how the European drought is impacting agricultural output and what the company is doing to spread its bets in terms of supply.

“I don’t know whether or not that is a primary driver of investment. We are concerned about climate change and Cargill made its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have always had a global network and that will not get smaller – our business does have a lot of regional flavor to them,” he said. Many of the products we make in a region come from there specifically,” he said.

“But global trade flows are important for our business and we have been proponents that free trade continues because whether those storms or volatility – which accentuate a deficit in one region or supply issue in another – it’s important to have that flexibility. Being able to move things from an area of surplus to areas of a deficit is key.”

Chase adds how Cargill has the capability to manage the flexibility of supply. 

“One of the advantages of having a global network like ours is that we do have the ability to make products in multiple locations. Not everything, but many things, so we have some flexibility to manage the security of suppliers for our customers,” he continues.

“That’s a huge deal for our customers who have brands on the shelves. Our ability to be a trusted supplier that you can count on to have your products turn up on time and in the expected condition, will not become less so in times of volatility.” You can listen to a podcast interview with Chase here

The world needs transformational change 
Thomas Lingard, Global Climate, Advocacy and Sustainability Strategy Director at Unilever explains how the business case for climate change is clear. The British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company is taking action across its value chain, from sourcing renewable energy in its operations to ending deforestation linked to the production of agricultural commodities.

“We also believe that the transformational change the world needs won’t be achieved without broader systemic change, which is why we advocate for public policies consistent with the vision of a world of Net Zero Emissions by 2050,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“We want to play our part in the global movement to create a low-carbon economy, so we’re increasing our use of renewable energy as we move towards becoming carbon positive in our operations by 2030. This includes sourcing 100 percent of our total energy from renewable sources and extends to making surplus renewable energy available to the markets and communities where we operate.”

“We’ve also set ourselves a science-based target to halve the greenhouse gas impacts of our products across their lifecycle by 2030.”

Furthermore, explains Lingard, Unilever (together with other industry organizations) committed in 2010 to achieving zero net deforestation associated with four commodities – palm oil, soy, paper, and board and beef) that are significant causes of large-scale deforestation, no later than 2020. 

“However, deforestation is a complex issue and one that isn’t going to be solved by companies acting alone,” he continues. “That’s why we’re working with industry partners, governments and NGOs, advocating for change across the entire sector. These include the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020), the Cerrado Manifesto, Global Forest Watch and, most recently, the World Wildlife Fund.”

“We have also joined the Taskforce on Climate-related Disclosures, whose framework is an important step forward in enabling market forces to drive the efficient allocation of capital and support a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy.”

What is Nestlé doing about climate change?
The Swiss multinational food and drink company says that over the past decade it has halved the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its factories per kilo of product. Nestlé is committed to lowering the GHG emissions associated with the production and distribution of its food and beverages, by improving energy efficiency, using cleaner fuels and investing in renewable sources. 

For example: switching from long-distance road transportation to rail or short-sea shipping in Europe, opting for wind power to supply energy to its factories in Mexico, and installing wood-fired boilers at some of its factories in France.

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, a Nestlé spokesperson said: “We are working to continuously reduce our environmental impact year on year as part of our ambition to have zero environmental impact across our operations. Climate change, as the recent IPCC report has highlighted, remains one of the most pressing global issues and a threat to food systems and food security.”

“Nestlé is committed to leadership on climate through investing in measures to increase the resilience of our operations and work with our suppliers to help them adapt to climate change, especially smallholder coffee and cocoa farmers. Focusing upon reducing GHG emissions along the value chain, especially by tackling deforestation, reducing food loss & waste, investing in plant-based proteins, improving soil health, improving efficiencies in our dairy supply chain and investing in renewable energy in our factories.”

“We believe that the IPCC report highlights the urgent need for governments to support effective land use governance to help stop deforestation and facilitate the use of degraded land, to continue to support moves away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and to facilitate building resilience to climate change in rural communities,” the spokesperson concludes. 

By Gaynor Selby 

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