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Post-COP26: Our diets and food habits are cooking the planet!

At the 2015 edition of the annual UN Climate Conference, countries agreed to a common goal in Paris: to hold the rise in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the latest instalment, COP26 in Glasgow which has just concluded, the urgency for action was highlighted as we remain off-course to meet the 1.5 degrees target. We need to rapidly decarbonise all sectors, including food. Indeed, how we produce, consume and dispose of food produces around 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and scientists have found that meeting targets will be impossible without significant changes to how the world eats. Simultaneously, climate change is impacting our land and natural resources, and if we can’t control it we will be able to produce less food and of lower nutritional quality.

Reforming the food system to save the planet will require new laws and regulations at the national and international levels. But individual consumer behaviours matter as well - more than you might think. But what should you do? Eat locally? Get your food from small-scale farmers? Choose organic and fair trade? Avoid processed foods? Eat seasonally? Eat more plants and fewer animals?

Yes to all - but maybe the easiest thing to do is eliminate your food waste! In fact, by cutting down the unnecessary waste of food we are playing a significant role in helping tackle climate change.

Did you know that agriculture, burning of fields after harvests and rotting food) in landfills account for approximately 50% of global methane emissions? Yes, methane is a gas that is not so often spoken about when it comes to GHG’s but is responsible for 30 to 50% of the warming that we see today. The Global Methane Pledge at COP26 aims to limit methane emissions by 30% compared with the levels in 2020. Governments are committing to tackle the issue and we can do our part by keeping food out of the bin and out of landfill - when food decomposes in landfill it releases methane. Landfills are estimated to be the source of 15-20% of methane emissions.

Ensuring no food goes to waste also eases pressures to produce more food, and convert more nature for agricultural land. Most of the emissions from food systems are caused by deforesting and converting nature - we can use less land if we aren’t throwing food away which will reduce emissions and provide opportunities to regenerate nature and pull carbon out of the atmosphere. Of course, in 2020 811 million people went hungry and we need to redirect food so that everyone is nourished with a healthy and nutritious diet, but we can still reduce land-use and feed everyone - even a growing population! - by eliminating food loss and waste.

The climate issue is a severe one and multiple large scale solutions need to be taken to help tackle the problem, but if we can reduce emissions by simply not wasting food we can slowly help pave the way towards a change. There is a solution and that solution begins with us.

So what can you do?

  • For starters, do not waste your food! A simple but extremely effective solution to help the climate crisis is eating the food we already have. Food loss and waste is a pointless additive to the climate crisis, and it unnecessarily builds pressure on our natural resources.

  • Composting your natural and perishable waste. Rotting food releases an estimated amount of 10% of methane into the atmosphere. This can easily be curbed by using our food scraps as natural fertilizers for our plants.

  • Your dietary pattern - It is no secret that the food we eat and the diets we follow have a direct impact on the climate crisis. By simply opting for local produce, more plants and vegetables and by perhaps growing our own produce in some cases, we can help make a small but significant change.

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