High emissions from food transport – wissenschaft.de

Much of our food is imported and sometimes comes from far away. But it is precisely the transport of food that is responsible for a surprisingly large proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, a study reveals. According to this, the international and national transport of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and others generates CO2 emissions of around three gigatonnes globally, which corresponds to around 30 percent of the total emissions from food production without land use. Not only are these values ​​significantly higher than previously estimated, but they are also significantly higher than when transporting other goods, the research team reports. Therefore, a more regional and locally oriented diet could benefit the climate.

Our diet not only affects our health, but also has consequences for the environment and the global climate. This is because forests and other natural landscapes are being modified for growing food and animal feed, affecting their ability to absorb CO2. Processing and transporting food consumes energy and generates greenhouse gas emissions. Due to the increasing globalization of retail chains, transport routes are getting longer and food is often produced in areas that are not really suitable for intensive farming, for example due to water scarcity . This is one of the reasons climate and nature conservationists have long called for increased regional consumption.

Higher transport emissions than any other sector

Mengyu Li of the University of Sydney and colleagues have now examined in more detail what role the transport of food from its place of production to the consumer plays in the ecological balance of the food sector. To do this, they developed a computer model that reconstructs the global food trade network based on global and national data on supply chains, emissions and transport routes. Using this model, the scientists determined the CO2 balance and food transport routes globally and in 74 countries, for 37 different economic sectors and four modes of transport. In total, they evaluated around 30 million direct business connections. From this, the team was able to determine the length of transport routes and the volume of goods transported for a wide variety of foods and countries.

The assessment showed that the food sector is responsible for around 15.8 gigatonnes of CO2 per year, corresponding to around 30 percent of global CO2 emissions. The climate impacts of changes in land use for agriculture are not yet included, as the researchers explain. About three gigatonnes of these food-related emissions are attributable to domestic and international food transportation alone. “This value is 3.5 to 7.5 times larger than previous estimates,” Li and his colleagues report. At the same time, comparative analyzes showed that transportation accounts for 30 percent of the total greenhouse gas budget for food production; if the effects of land use are added, the figure is 19 percent. “This means that emissions from transport in the food sector are much higher than those from other goods: in general, freight transport is only responsible for around seven percent of the CO2 balance of industry and the production of goods. “explains the team.

Rich countries, in particular, drive long-distance food transport

According to the data, CO2 emissions are particularly high for fruit and vegetables: because they are heavy, often transported long distances and must be cooled, the transport of these foods has a disproportionately large impact on the greenhouse gas balance. greenhouse. “Transportation of vegetables and fruits more than doubles its production-related emissions from 0.5 gigatons of CO2 equivalent to 1.1 gigatons annually,” Li and his colleagues report. If you compare different countries and regions, there are clear differences in the transport routes of imported or exported food and the associated carbon footprint. According to this, the US, China, India and Russia have the largest share of transport-related emissions from the food industry, but smaller, richer countries also make a significant contribution: “The richest countries account for about 12.5 percent of the world’s population. but they are responsible for 46 percent of the global population’s food miles traveled internationally and the associated emissions,” the research team writes.

According to scientists, not only should meat consumption be reduced for more climate-friendly food production, but also the extension of long-distance food transport. “Until now, research on more sustainable food production has focused primarily on comparing animal-based versus plant-based nutrition,” says Li’s colleague David Raubenheimer. “Our study now shows that in addition to switching to a more plant-based diet, switching to a more regional and local diet makes sense.” fruits and vegetables are not available locally all year round, this could save a lot of long-distance transportation of such foods. At the same time, it is also the task of retailers, food chains and other providers to increase the proportion of locally produced food in stores and make them more attractive to customers. “If we change people’s attitude and behavior towards sustainable nutrition, this will benefit the environment on a large scale,” says Raubenheimer.

Source: Mengyu Li (University of Sydney) et al., Nature Food, doi: 10.1038/s43016-022-00531-w

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