As COVID restrictions ease the desire to go out to eat and drink is understandable, but what’s the climate impact of that cheeseburger and pint you might be eyeing up from the menu?
Because when it comes to emissions, not all burgers are created equal.
Here are the emissions made in producing your burger when the ingredients are sourced from the UK and Europe.
But a similar meal prepared in Latin America produces three times the emissions as the one made in Europe.
So why is food and drink made here greener?
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the production of food vary across the world. The bulk of emissions from the food system come from developing countries like China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, according to the European Union’s Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research.
In fact, developing countries have to transform land in order to have space to graze cattle and grow crops. Clearing jungle, forests and woodland releases carbon into the atmosphere. In industrialised countries, deforestation often happened centuries ago.
There is also a large amount of carbon release from the degradation of soil in developing countries due to land change and farming practices. This is shown in the below chart as “land use and land-use change” (LULUC).
Industrialised countries already have fertile fields, as well as better technology and regulations, all contributing to lower emissions from land use.
According to a report from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, a lot of this land use change and the resulting emissions can be linked to food consumption in industrialised countries. The industrialised world’s food requirements fuel the clearing of land for food production in developing countries.
It’s not all bad news, however.
The world’s population has more than doubled since 1960. Total global emissions have risen to an all-time high.
But efficiencies in agricultural production have led to a decline in per-person emissions from the sector over the same period, according to the climate science data provider Climate Watch.
There’s no one reason why food production has become more efficient. In the US for example, there’s been an increase in genetically modified crops, which use fewer resources to produce the same yield.
Overall reduction in livestock numbers, the reduced application of nitrogen-based fertilisers, as well as better forms of manure management have led to more efficient farming practices in Europe, according to report by EU’s statistical agency Eurostat.
While that data may be encouraging, the study by the European Commission also estimated the food industry was responsible for a third of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human activities.
And the remarkable rise in global emissions from non-agricultural sectors, such as energy and industry, remains a cause for alarm.
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