Tuesday, August 20, 2019

These Companies Are Now Responding to the IPCC Report Findings

Originally published in Triple Pundit.
By now, you’ve likely read about the Special Report on Climate Change and Landreleased earlier this month by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report highlights how the rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil, risks jeopardizing food security for the Planet. That is planet with a capital P, meaning everyone.

And everyone—governments, companies, farmers and consumers—has a responsibility to help mitigate the pending crisis headed toward us, according to the report. 

If you didn’t read the full 1,200-page report, here is a recap: More than 100 scientists looked at 7,000 studies to understand how human impacts on land are causing greenhouse gas emissions, how climate change is affecting our ability to produce food, and how changing what we do on farms and in forests can help fight climate change. They found that farming, forestry and other human land use is responsible for 23 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and that keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius will only happen if we reduce those emissions.

Do more using less land—and do so, sustainability

Like any good U.N. report, this one is not shy to offer recommendations. At the top of the authors’ list: Countries must commit to sustainable land use to help limit greenhouse gas emissions before it is too late.

The authors put out a strong call for greater use of new, more efficient, and sustainable agriculture technologies and methods capable of producing more food with less land, particularly food that is resistant to extreme weather conditions such as drought and flooding. 

They called on the global community—with a keen eye toward food producers and retailers—to reduce food waste.They urged greater efforts to protect ecosystems that are already rich in carbon, like mangrove forests, rainforests and peatlands, and for more efforts at reforestation. And they confirmed the recommendations we have heard from numerous others: Western countries must do more to replace, or at least partially shift, their high-meat diets with plant-based alternatives. 

“This report really underscores the importance and urgency of lands,” Will Turner, senior vice president of global strategies at the nonprofit Conservation International, told Fast Company. “What we do to protect and restore land this generation will affect whether our children, and those they share the planet with, are going to suffer. . . . We’re making some progress on managing lands and climate change generally, but we’re making incremental progress against an exponential problem."

But wait, there is hope in the IPCC report

Before you click to the next article, wait! It’s not all doom and gloom. While the scale of change must accelerate quickly, there are more and more examples every day of businesses working with nonprofit organizations and researchers to address the challenges identified in the report. We offer a few examples that will hopefully spawn many more in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Reducing food waste

According to ReFEDa collaboration of businesses, nonprofits and government leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste—every year, American consumers, businesses and farms spend $218 billion growing, processing, transporting and disposing food that is never eaten. More than 50 million tons of it are typically sent to landfills. Ten million tons are discarded or left unharvested on farms. Altogether, food waste consumes 18 percent of cropland and 21 percent of landfill volume.

Where to start? Why not with one of the world’s largest retailers: Walmart. It has long been aiming for zero waste—including food waste—in its operations in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2019, Walmart Canada formally committed to achieve zero food waste by 2025.

The retailer’s strategy includes strengthening its forecasting and ordering tools and training employees on how to better care for food and manage it at the end of shelf life. Walmart has also created a customized field-to-store network for highly perishable products, which is designed to reduce days in transit. In 2019, Walmart says it had 90 million fewer wasted units in its fresh departments in the United States as compared to the year prior.

Walmart is also jumping on the “ugly” fruit and veggie bandwagon at its Asda stores in the United Kingdom where, in 2019, it sold more than a million boxes of ugly produce, avoiding 1.5 million pounds of waste.

If food is no longer edible, Walmart says it will work to convert it to animal feed, compost or energy.

Using technology to improve crop yields

Illumina, a San Diego-based company that provides  sequencing and array-based solutions for analysis of genetic variation and function, is working to address the challenge of feeding the global population. Through the use of its microarray and next-generation sequencing technologies, it is helping farmers identify the genetic markers linked to desirable traits, informing cultivation.

The company has started the Illumina Greater Good Sequencing Grant Program to help researchers around the world. The annual grand prize winner receives free access to Illumina sequencing data. One past winner, the Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa–International Livestock Research Institute Hub, is using Illumina sequencing to better understand and combat two viruses responsible for infecting cassava crops throughout Africa.

Developing delicious plant-based foods

Let’s start with what might be the most contentious topic out of the report for some: moving toward a plant-based diet.

Scientists generally agree that approximately 33 percent of arable land is now devoted to crops that will be used for animal feed. On top of that statistic, farmed animals produce half of the world’s methane emissions. And livestock such as cattle and lamb are particularly inefficient, because these animals need lots of space to graze, and in nations such as Brazil, that land is often space that used to be covered with forests.

“Shifting to a plant-based diet would be a significant catalyst for combating climate change," said Andre Laperrière, executive director of Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), in an emailed statement to TriplePundit. 

One of the best examples that showcases this shift is Impossible Foods, which, for more than a decade, has been finding ways to turn plant-based ingredients into meat alternatives. This upstart's secret: Heme, an essential molecule found in every living plant and animal, which is what makes meat taste like meat

According to the company, one Impossible Burger (instead of a burger made from beef) uses 96 percent less land and 87 percent less water and produces 89 percent fewer GHG emissions.

And it’s not just burgers. Impossible Foods’ plant-based options, in addition to other brands that make similar products, can be used to replace meat on your chili cheese fries, in your meat-less meatballs, in your tacos and your empanadas  . . . the list goes on and on.

Supply Chain Sustainability: M&Ms without deforestation

In another example: We all love chocolate. But churning all those cacao pods into sweets is wreaking havoc on the world’s forests. As part of its Cocoa for Generations plan, Mars says it is creating a deforestation-free global cocoa supply chain for such iconic sweets as M&Ms, Twix and Snickers.

To date, the global food giant claims it has GPS-mapped 24 percent of its global cocoa supply chain to the farm level. Mars also claims to have made significant progress in tracing the cocoa it sources to a country of origin via its first-tier direct suppliers, second-tier farmer groups and, finally, to the farmer level. By 2025, Mars says it plans to map all of the countries where it sources cocoa, including Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana (where nearly 65 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown), as well as Indonesia, Brazil, Cameroon and Ecuador.

Mars insists that it is also advancing partnerships with cocoa suppliers, governments and civil society partners who share a common goal of preserving forests for the future, and are committed to accelerate progress by working only with cocoa suppliers who can be accountable to meet the milestones laid out in the company’s long-term cocoa plan.

Teaching new farming skills to take on climate change

Climate change is also threatening one of the world’s most beloved beverages: tea. To that end, Unilever, the world’s biggest tea packer with brands such as Lipton, has committed to sustainably source 100 percent of its tea, including loose tea, by 2020.

A key partner in its efforts for more than a decade has been the Rainforest Alliance, with whom it worked to develop local indicators for sustainable tea production in Kenya. In 2007, Kericho, Unilever’s largest tea estate in Kenya, was the first tea farm to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification. Certification means that farmers and companies have met the standards for efficient farm management, soil erosion, waste production and wildlife habitat protection, among others.

Today, Rainforest Alliance-certified tea accounts for around 20 percent of the world’s tea production, but Unilever says it is working to increase that by supporting suppliers in 14 countries in Africa and Asia to train smallholder farmers so they can achieve farm certification. One of the company’s longest-running partnerships is with the Kenya Tea Development Agency and the Sustainable Trade Initiative through which it has enabled 86,000 farmersincluding around 42,000 women—to train at Farmer Field Schools for guidance on how to share best agricultural practices, increase yields, improve quality, and improve their health and nutrition.

The best is yet to come—and it must

Of course, there are many other examples of companies and organizations doing their part to mitigate their impact on climate change that could be added to those above. And there must be more, together with concerted government action.

As Aparajita Bhalla of the Rainforest Alliance expressed in a statement emailed to TriplePundit: “The work has already started. We need to keep moving toward a more sustainable agriculture system and reap the climate benefits such a system would provide.”

Image credit: Jamie Street/Unsplash

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