IPCC Third Report: Key headlines and takeaways for the food sector

BY EMMA CARROLL-MONTEIL, SUSTAINABLE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their third working group report Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. The three IPCC reports can be (very) briefly summarised as:  

  • IPCC I: What’s causing climate change?  
  • IPCC II: How bad is it?  
  • IPCC III: What are we going to do about it?  

The Working Group III (WGIII) report provides an updated global assessment of climate change prevention and examines the sources of global emissions. It addresses developments in emission reduction and mitigation efforts, assesses the impact of national climate pledges in relation to long-term emissions goals, and provides insight to what further changes need to be made. The full report is an impressive circa 3,000 pages, so we’re here to provide a summary, and to focus on the most relevant sections for our sector.  

What are some of the key overall findings?  

  1. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. We have a narrow chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, this chance continues to slip, and without drastic change, we are likely to overshoot. The door of opportunity to stay below 1.5°C is still open, but it’s closing. 

  1. We have already observed significant impacts on natural and human systems from global warming. Future climate-related risks depend on the rate, peak and duration of warming.  

  1. Adaptation and mitigation are already occurring. But, some impacts of climate change already may be long-lasting or irreversible. 

  1. If we stick to 1.5°C, and do it slowly, things won’t be as bad as they could be. Sea levels will rise, species will disappear, food security will be threatened, human health and safety will be at risk… but it’s a lot better than if we get to 2°C, quickly. 

  1. There are a wide range of adaptation options that can reduce the risks of climate change, but there are also limits to adaptation and adaptive capacity for some human and natural systems at global warming of 1.5°C, with associated losses. 

What are some of the most significant industry-relevant findings?  

  1. Individual behaviour can play a significant role in combatting climate change, and the most significant shift in behaviour is through diet change. It’s sometimes hard to feel like personal actions make a difference, and it is very validating that the IPCC have affirmed that these actions do count.  

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions can be significantly reduced through global shifts to plant-based diets. The IPCC detail that these diets would feature a higher percentage of plant protein, a moderate intake of animal-derived foods, and a reduction in saturated fats. Such diets would also provide environmental benefits such as reduced land occupation and nutrient loss to the surrounding environments and provide health benefits to consumers.  

  1. High calorie diets also have higher greenhouse gas emissions. This isn’t surprising – and we’re proud that we’ve been shouting for a while now about how sustainable diets are those which are good for you, and good for the planet. Read more. 

  1. Food waste is a significant source of greenhouse gasses, and the amount of it continues to increase. Unfortunate, but again, not surprising. Though we would have liked to have seen more mention of food waste in the report, we were glad that food waste was included. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, around 1/3 of the world’s food is wasted, and the combination of producing, transporting, and decomposing that food releases a whopping 8-10% of global greenhouse gasses. We’ve partnered with Fourth to author an in-depth report about the food waste challenge in hospitality, read more about it here.  

  1. The UK was used as a case study for how dietary shifts can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Meat eating is declining in the UK, alongside a shift from carbon-intensive red meat towards poultry. This is due to a mixture of health-related motivations, animal welfare concerns, and potentially – but not certainly – social movements promoting vegan diets. The market for plant-based alternatives has soared and been met with high popularity. It’s clear that any operator not shifting their menu balance to incorporate more plant-based options is missing out on both customers and the chance to put the planet first.  

  1. Businesses and organisations can play a key role responding to climate change through their own commitments to sustainability. This includes net-zero policies, influencing consumer behaviours through communications and marketing, and more. We were particularly pleased by this acknowledgement, as it aligns with our work and vision of Food Made Good. Restaurants and chefs have a huge role to play setting positive trends, nudging consumer behaviour though the menus they create and the messages they share across all platforms. Putting your credentials to the test via a certification like the Food Made Good Sustainability Rating shows everyone you’re serious about making a positive difference.

What are we going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?

The call to action is pretty clear – we need to continue to push for a more sustainable food future. This includes individual action (e.g., beans over beef, putting pressure on policy makers) and business changes (e.g., more sustainable menus, using green energy, etc). You can read our fuller list of actions that we are taking, and those that we encourage you to take, here. 

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