London's food sector greenhouse gases

Greater London Authority
Start date:
January 2008
June 2008

Background and method
This report builds on the Mayor’s 2007 Climate Change Action Plan and the London Food Strategy (2006) by quantifying the contribution of London’s food sector to the capital’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The research was commissioned by the Greater London Authority to inform the Climate Change Mitigation and Energy Strategy, published in 2010.

The Climate Change Action Plan estimates that London is responsible for some 44 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. However, there was previously an evidence gap relating to the exact contribution of the food sector to this.

The main body of the report comprises an analysis of the food production-consumption chain, from primary production and manufacturing, to transport and distribution, retail, households and consumers, the food service sector (including public sector food) and waste management. The analysis includes the full basket of greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol. It also takes a ‘responsibility’ approach to London’s food-related emissions: it accounts for emissions that result from London’s food consumption, regardless of where they occur.

The findings are based on internally consistent datasets with explicit assumptions, providing a robust basis on which to identify priority actions to address the environmental impact of London’s food sector. The analysis is based on sources such as the UK Environmental Accounts, Department for Transport personal travel data, BERR domestic energy use statistics, and the UK National Accounts.

As well as detailed quantitative results, the report covers a number of issues that cut across the food chain and which may provide a footing for influencing food-related GHGs. The final section of the report complements the main quantitative analysis by presenting a range of qualitative and quantitative evidence on a series of London-specific issues that influence the city’s relationship with food and, by extension, food-related emissions:

• public sector food procurement;
• London’s unique retail and hospitality structures;
• ‘alternative’ food sources, such as farmers’ markets and allotments;
• the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games; and
• London’s small and medium food enterprises.

In order to provide some basis upon which to prioritise actions, these issues are scaled within the context of the main quantitative findings. Public procurement and the retail and hospitality sectors are identified as having a particularly large part to play in the GHG emissions arising from London’s food.

Overall, the report estimates that the London food sector is responsible for around 19 million tonnes of CO2eq per annum. Of this, just under 11 million tonnes is CO2. (Note that these figures are not comparable to the overall figures in the Climate Change Action Plan, since our figures include all Kyoto greenhouse gases and also take a lifecycle approach).

The report shows how the environmental impact of London’s food consumption stretches right back to the very first stages of food production: primary production stands out as the largest contributor to the GHG emissions that arise mainly outside London. Within London, the retail and foodservice sectors contribute roughly equal quantities of GHGs, but both are dwarfed by the GHGs that result from home storage and preparation of food.

The report demonstrates the large contribution of primary production (mainly agriculture) to the environmental impact of London’s food sector. In fact, the production and processing of food accounts for more than two thirds of total emissions, and transport accounts for nearly one fifth. At the other end of the food chain, one tenth of total emissions arise from storing and cooking food at home.

The results also demonstrate the importance of including the wider basket of greenhouse gases. The report shows that the primary production stage accounts for a much smaller proportion of emissions when only CO2 is considered; in fact, emissions from home preparation and storage of food are almost double those from primary production. The largest contributor is the Transport, storage & distribution stage, which is responsible for one third of total food-related CO2 emissions. It is interesting to note that the CO2 contribution of the Disposal stage is not large enough to register in this CO2 account: the vast majority of emissions are made up of other greenhouse gases.

The analysis shows that London’s food spans all of the major sectors identified in the Climate Change Action Plan and makes a significant contribution to the capital’s greenhouse gas emissions. The evidence presented in this report provides a deeper understanding of the nature and scale of that contribution. It takes into account the unique characteristics, pressures and opportunities presented by London’s food sector, and provides a firm foundation from which to identify ways to reduce the climate change impacts of London’s food.


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