Food cold chains are critical if we are to feed an additional two billion people by 2050 and harness the resilience of rural communities – while avoiding increased greenhouse gas emissions. This is the key finding of the Sustainable Food Cold Chains report launched at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2022.
The report was produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It was developed as part of the UNEP-led Cool Coalition in partnership with FAO, the Ozone Secretariat, UNEP OzonAction Programme, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.
An estimated 14 per cent of all food produced for human consumption is lost before it reaches the consumer. The lack of an effective cold chain to maintain the quality, nutritional value and safety of food is one of the major contributors to food loss. According to the report, developing countries could save 144 million tonnes of food annually if they reached the same level of food cold chain infrastructure as developed countries. Post-harvest food loss reduces the income of 470 million small-scale farmers by 15 per cent, mainly in developing countries. Investing in sustainable food cold chains would help lift these farm families out of poverty.
The food cold chain has serious implications for climate change and the environment. Emissions from food loss and waste due to lack of refrigeration totalled an estimated one gigatonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2017 – about two per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. It particularly contributes to emissions of methane, a potent but short-lived climate pollutant. Taking action now would help reduce atmospheric concentrations of methane this decade. Overall the food cold chain is responsible for around four per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions – when emissions from cold chain technologies and food loss caused by lack of refrigeration are included.
Lost food also damages the natural world by driving the unnecessary conversion of land for agricultural purposes and use of resources such as water, fossil fuels and energy.
Reducing food loss and waste could make a positive impact on climate change, but only if new cooling infrastructure is energy efficient, uses gases with low global warming potential and runs on renewable energy.
The adoption of the ‘Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol’ and the ‘Rome Declaration on the Contribution of the Montreal Protocol to Food Loss Reduction through Sustainable Cold Chain Development’ help accelerate the deployment of sustainable food cold chains.
Read more and download the report on the FAO website