Did you know food accounts for 30% of carbon emissions? The New Climate Gap Report

Written by
February 22, 2024
5 min read

The new Climate Gap Report (from Ethical Consumer Research) focuses a spotlight on lifestyle areas of our lives and highlights the combined consumption emissions and what we need to do by 2030, if we are to achieve net-zero.

It tracks progress towards sustainable consumer lifestyles, and helps identify how consumers, governments and companies can work together to help fix the climate crisis, helping produce a simplified list of key actions for consumers, companies and governments.

The report breaks our lifestyles into four categories, where our lifestyle climate impacts are the biggest:

  1. Food
  2. Housing
  3. Transport
  4. Consumer goods

In this blog, we’ll really focus on the food aspect, as it was most surprising (and shocking).

Food accounts for as much as 30% of our total consumer emissions.

Which is why SKOOT Eco we're putting so much of our energy into helping restaurants and hospitality.

This is driven by the high footprint of the foods we eat, but also the sheer volume.

UK diet                               Tonnes CO2e per year

High meat eaters          2.6

Medium meat eaters     2

Low meat eaters           1.7

Vegetarians                   1.39

Vegans                           1

What can we do to make a difference?

The report highlighted that there are still a variety of actions that consumers must take to reach the 2030 goals which includes

a 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030.

Plus a further 15% meat reduction by 2050.

Reducing the consumption of products from grazing animals, such as cows, sheep and goats is by far the easiest way to reach these goals. These grazing animals produce the two foods which release the most amount of CO2 into the atmosphere, meat and diary.

Alongside that grazing animals require a lot of land which is often cleared through deforestation, which accounts for 15% of global GHG emissions, and livestock also produce large quantities of methane.

Rearing cows, is intensive in so many ways. One cow requires 1 acre of land! The average dairy farm in the UK has 131 cows each producing around 7000 litres of milk each year.

The largest U.S. dairy farms have over 15,000 cows, though farms with 1,000–5,000 cows are more common.

According to The Guardian article “Feed crops are grown in one-third of total cropland, while the total land area occupied by pasture is equivalent to 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface”.

Above is a variety of average UK diets and an estimate of their emissions, including the land usage needed for the animals. It shows that high meat eaters emit double the amount of carbon that a vegetarian does, once again providing evidence for trying to reduce your meat consumption.

Emissions from agriculture can be further reduced through changing production methods for example using cover crops to reduce emissions from soil and anaerobic digestion from bacteria to reduce methane emissions from manure. This is not a feasible option for consumers however so these are not being focused on at this stage.

Food waste is also responsible for emitting greenhouse gasses. When food breaks down at landfill sites it releases harmful greenhouse gasses like methane into the atmosphere. According to the Climate Change Committee food waste makes up 3.5% of our emissions with households making up for 70% of these.  

Zero Waste Scotland infographic provides an easy breakdown to see the impact of our food

The key findings of the 2022 Climate Gap report

Consumer related actions needed by 2030 to mitigate the impacts of climate change:  

  • 20% reduction in meat consumption
  • 20% reduction in dairy consumption
  • 34% reduction in food waste

Where do we stand with these figures in 2022:

  • Meat consumption stands at approximately 1,041g per person per week
  • Diary consumption stands at approximately 2,676g per person per week
  • 8 million tonnes of food waste (2018 as the latest figure available)

Where did these figures stand in previous years:

  • Meat consumption stands at approximately 1,045g per person per week
  • Diary consumption stands at approximately 2,713g per person per week
  • 8 million tonnes of food waste (2018 as the latest figure available)

The current climate gap. What change is still needed?

  • There is still 20% reduction in meat consumption needed
  • A 20% reduction in diary
  • And a 34% reduction in food waste

From the figures you can see that we are not moving nearly fast enough to reach the 2030 goals. The figures do show a 0.3% reduction in meat consumption and a 0.1% reduction in dairy, whilst this is a change it is even close to being enough. We do seem to be moving in the right direction but our figures show that the speed of change needs to accelerate if we want to reach our 2030 goals.

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Written by
February 22, 2024
5 min read