Cities and regions are increasingly taking leadership in shifting towards more sustainable development trajectories. Contributing some 20-30% of global greenhouse gas emisisons, the food system has an important part to play. Working with ESTA (the Environmental Sustainability Technical Assistance project) and Eco3, 3Keel modelled environmental impacts and dependencies of food production and consumption for three Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), in Cumbria, Cheshire & Warrington and Greater Manchester.
Focusing on food system greenhouse gas emissions
The food system is a complex topic linked not only to environmental impacts but also health and wellbeing, economic development, history and culture. Amongst these issues, the question of GHG emissions takes on particular importance when it is considered that globally, 20-30% of all GHG emissions are caused by the food system. The findings of this report show that the consumption of food and drink in Greater Manchester is responsible for 6.4 million tonnes of CO2e every year – an amount greater than the emissions from all of Greater Manchester’s motor vehicles. Agricultural activities within Greater Manchester are linked to a further 112,000 tonnes CO2e every year from sources such as methane emissions from livestock, and emissions associated with the application of fertiliser.
Identifying the hotspots
Using a life cycle approach, this report sets out to help readers to understand in more detail the causes of these emissions. While all mitigation actions are beneficial, it is hoped that quantifying the greatest areas of impact will help to focus resources where they can count most. In terms of absolute emissions, primary production, energy use by consumers, avoidable food waste, and refrigeration are the biggest single factors in food and drink related GHG emissions. By contrast, some factors that might be expected to be critical, for example packaging, local sourcing and organic production, have relatively minor impact. Overall, the decisions made by consumers about the kind of food we choose to eat, and in particular how much meat and dairy we consume, has a major impact across the system.
Taking actions that count
The report then explores the kinds of actions that can be taken to mitigate these GHG impacts. There are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions. In addition to having demonstrable impact, actions to reduce emissions must above all work with, rather than against, local stakeholders such as farmers, food businesses and consumers, optimising economic, social and environmental benefits. Where possible, potential emissions reductions have been quantified, using both hypothetical and realistic scenarios. A process and evaluation matrix for helping LEPs and their partners to select mitigation measures is outlined, and two ‘think pieces’ are offered to initiate discussion.
Our initial findings were presented at a Greater Manchester stakeholder workshop. This provided valuable local insights on the potential practical implications of the work, and feedback and comments were incorporated into the report.
It was great to work with 3Keel and their partner Eco3, and we developed a strong and open relationship with them, enabling us to develop an excellent final product. The team’s expertise in food systems was highly valuable in producing a set of reports that are insightful and rigorous, and will provide a practical evidence base from which meaningful change in Greater Manchester, Cheshire & Warrington, and Cumbria will hopefully occur.
Todd Holden, Director Low Carbon Policy and Programmes, ENWORKS