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Climate science is serious business: General Mills & Kellogg show how (POLICY)

Food and beverage companies – some of the largest climate change contributors – need to make greater efforts to use established science to set their mitigation targets. Luckily, a couple of their peers can help show the way.

Here’s an inconvenient truth: our chocolates, cookies and chips all come with a side of climate change. Almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from our food and agricultural system.  Yet the food industry has yet to tackle agricultural emissions in their supply chains even though it accounts for the biggest portion of their carbon footprint. And until recently, none of the top food and beverage companies had GHG reduction targets that were aligned with what climate science demands.

But some companies are beginning to step up. In 2015, General Mills and Kellogg announced science-based reduction targets for their operations and value chains, becoming the first food and beverage companies to do so. These targets were part of the climate commitments made by these companies in 2014 after more than 230,000 consumers demanded food and beverage companies do more to tackle climate change as part of Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign.

Today, Oxfam released an independent evaluation of the GHG reduction targets and plans adopted by General Mills and Kellogg. The evaluation, which was conducted by Andrew Winston and Jeff Gowdy of Eco-Winston Strategies, shows that both General Mills and Kellogg exceed their industry peers in setting and implementing robust science-based emission reduction targets.

Oxfam welcomes the evaluation’s findings and recommendations – it’s great to see General Mills and Kellogg making moves to ensure their plans for cutting carbon are aligned with science across their value chains – from farm to fork.  Our technical brief builds on the evaluation’s findings by highlighting the urgent need for more food and beverage companies to set and implement similar targets  and outlines emerging good practice for doing so, including:

  1. Setting targets that address emissions from agricultural production(by far the most significant component of companies’ carbon footprint).
  2. Setting targets that are guided by climate science and not simply feasibility.
  3. Engaging suppliers to implement plans to measure and reduce emissions in supply chains.

That said, the pace at which climate science is evolving, current methods of science-based target setting represent the beginning of the journey and not the end. While both General Mills and Kellogg have set ambitious climate mitigation targets, the tools available for setting such targets do not appropriately capture decarbonisation pathways for agriculture and they do not account for the lower 1.5 degree Celsius threshold adopted at COP21 in Paris last December.  The rate of decarbonisation for food and beverage companies needs to be a lot steeper to account for this new goal.

The reality is that the world’s carbon budget is constantly shrinking.  As this startling GIF that went viral few weeks ago shows, we are precariously close to hurtling past 1.5 degree threshold, even potentially past 2 degrees Celsius.

We are already seeing the higher temperatures taking a toll on communities across the world from Bangladesh to Louisiana as an increasing number of people are being forced to leave their homes because of the impacts of climate change.

As key drivers of global climate change, food and beverage companies have a major role to play in keeping the planet under the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold. They also need to continually assess where their commitments lie in respect to science-based targets and innovate to stay within the earth’s planetary boundaries.

Kellogg and General Mills have gotten us off to a good start.

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