Comment: Dr Marcus Gover of UK charity WRAP explains how collective action by business can act as an accelerator in global action to tackle climate change
As COP26 draws to a close one thing is clear: while there is much to celebrate from new government commitments to address the climate emergency, business leadership is acting as the accelerator.
Policymaker decisions are critical but as has been shown several times over the last two weeks, businesses are not waiting for new regulation to act. Instead, progressive organisations are using their innovation to anticipate and inform policymakers as individuals and in coalitions; regulation will pick up the laggards.
Today, an estimated one-third of all the food produced ends up as rubbish before it even gets to the table
Over the last 10 years we have seen the success of harnessing business action through pre-competitive collaboration programmes, which we at WRAP call voluntary agreements. They provide practical, measurable outcomes – and crucially they can be done much faster than regulatory change. And speed is important here; if we are going to keep 1.5 alive we need action now.
One important agreement to come out of COP26 was a global agreement to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
Today, an estimated one-third of all the food produced ends up as rubbish before it even gets to the table. Not only is this an unconscionable waste of the world’s resources when 815 million people go hungry, but when food goes to landfill and rots, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that only lasts 12 years in the atmosphere, but is 125 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it is emitted.
The latest report from the lntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that loss and waste of food caused between 8% and 10% of the emissions of the gases responsible for global warming in the period 2010-2016.
And it’s one of the reasons that the food and drink sector accounts for 35% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
We started the Courtauld Commitment in 2005 to enable collaborative action across the entire UK food chain to deliver farm-to-fork reductions in food waste, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water stress.
Today it unites UK businesses who together put nearly 95% of the food and drink on UK tables to take wider collective action. Because so many are represented, when they change, the system changes. Last year saw a 45% increase in UK food redistribution worth £280m and the equivalent of 220 million meals.
Along with the methane pact, the COP26 policy pledge around deforestation must be celebrated – it is a global game changer
The Courtauld Commitment has just launched its latest targets for 2030 – showing how voluntary agreements can and must consistently adapt and evolve. As well as continuing to cut food waste, signatories have pledged to deliver a 50% absolute reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food and drink consumed in the UK by 2030, against a 2015 baseline.
This is aligned to a 1.5 degree Celsius pathway and an important milestone towards meeting wider food sector targets for net zero by 2040. On top of that the commitment pledged that 50% of fresh food in the UK will be sourced from areas with sustainable water management.
Along with the methane pact, the COP26 policy pledge around deforestation must be celebrated – it is a global game changer. Similarly, the agreement on Nature Day to reform agriculture policies is important, with nations agreeing to reform policies to support a sustainable food system. The UK’s aim to engage 75 percent of farmers in low carbon practices by 2030 isn’t just a call for the agricultural industry, it will impact our whole food system.
Our Courtauld 2030 targets already include deforestation and agricultural practices as we know that deforestation is responsible for a large chunk of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food supply in the UK, and that UK agriculture creates around 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in our food system. As a result, our signatory businesses are actively addressing these areas.
Getting involved with voluntary agreements has given organisations a head start in adapting the food system to the change that’s needed. Our business participants are well placed to absorb the significant policy and regulatory measures which are coming, as well as responding to increasing consumer demand in this space.
As shown in our consumer survey of more than 2,000 UK respondents in September 2021, 66% of the UK public agree businesses should do more to help customers reduce their own impact on climate change and 57% want UK food businesses to do more on tackling climate change.
Progressive voluntary agreements are a key part of the solution and it’s time to accelerate their take-up
Voluntary agreements that replicate the Courtauld Commitment are in place in five continents across the world for food waste, plastics and textiles. We have been helping Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa to set up food waste voluntary agreements and are delighted to have supported the latest initiative that recently launched in Australia.
The Australian Food Pact features major companies such as Simplot Australia, Woolworths Group and Coles as founding signatories. Led by Stop Food Waste Australia (SFWA), the Australian Food Pact represents one of the biggest, most tangible demonstrations so far in helping the Australian government reach its target of halving food waste by 2030.
COP26 has been an intensive, immersive process but we can’t wait for the dust to settle; we need to accelerate action now. From joint commitments by CEOs to individual examples of innovation, I have seen the level of business ambition and power of business collaboration first-hand. Progressive voluntary agreements are a key part of the solution and it’s time to accelerate their take-up across the world.
Dr Marcus Gover is CEO of WRAP
COP26 food waste agriculture methane emissions IPCC GHG emissions Cortauld Commitment