This year represents a crucial milestone in addressing the climate crisis. The COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow is the biggest opportunity to make substantive global progress since the Paris Agreement of 2015.
The global food system is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gases. Globally, food production is linked to 70% of biodiversity loss on land and emissions from food waste are higher than from any country on earth, except for the US and China.
As the human population grows, these impacts will only increase.
Having recently joined Tesco, I’m acutely aware and personally passionate about the food industry’s responsibility to make lasting change. A sustainable food system is one of the biggest levers we can pull in the fight against climate change. By finding ways to feed our growing population more sustainably – using less land and fewer natural resources – we can improve the health of our planet and improve our own health as well.
At Tesco, we’re playing our part by creating a better basket for our customers and the planet.
We have started with our own operations, where we can make the most immediate change. In 2009, we became the first company globally to commit to become a zero-carbon business by 2050. We are investing in efficiency improvement, renewable electricity and switching to an all-electric delivery fleet. Last year we achieved a 50% absolute reduction in emissions on a 2015 baseline – beating our 2020 science-based target of 35%. So we have challenged ourselves to go faster and reach our UK net zero target by 2035 – 15 years early.
Beyond our own operations, we know we can achieve more by collaborating with our suppliers, experts and others in our industry. That is why we are partnering with WWF to halve the environmental impact of food, and mobilising over 40 of our biggest suppliers to address food waste.
Our supply chain is integral to making systemic and lasting change. To highlight the scale of the challenge, emissions from agriculture and manufacturing are over five times bigger than in our own operations. We therefore have a responsibility to help our suppliers to mobilise to reduce their emissions too.
In 2017, we set science-based targets for our supply chain on a two-degree trajectory. Last year our 70 biggest suppliers reported a 12% reduction in manufacturing emissions, exceeding our science-based target of a 7% reduction. Our suppliers are now working to reduce carbon emissions by 35% across food manufacturing by 2030, and 15% for agriculture.
Emissions from agriculture represent a significant part of our emissions footprint as a food company. A lot of progress can be made through efficiency improvements, but to meet our targets, we also need innovation. We’re collaborating on scaling technologies targeting the biggest emissions sources in the supply chain; such as testing low-carbon fertiliser, methane-reducing feed, and alternative feeds such as insect protein.
But there’s much more to do. Reversing climate change is everyone’s responsibility, and we want to help our customers reduce their emissions too. Which is why we’re installing 2,500 electric vehicle charging points across our UK stores, increasing the sale of plant-based meat alternatives by 300% by 2025, and supporting customers to reduce the amount of food wasted at home.
Real change requires a collective effort, and everyone involved in the food system must play their part. Acting together, our industry can make a huge contribution in the fight against climate change. In this defining decade for climate action, now is the time to accelerate our collective ambition to tackle the biggest challenge of our lifetime.
Ken Murphy is a keynote speaker at The Grocer Conference on 24 March 2021. Access to the conference on demand costs £125 but is free to Gold and Platinum members of The Grocer. To view the full programme or register to watch online, go to thegrocer-conferences.co.uk.