Last November took place in Glasgow the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties, known as COP 26. This conference was the first one after the 2015 Paris Agreement where parties had to submit their enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to rise up the ambition to mitigate climate change. NDCs are those national ambitions or goals to limit greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, with the overall objective to reach global peaking of GHG emissions as soon as possible.

A total of 197 attending parties signed the Glasgow Climate Pact. This pact recognizes the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C, and the need to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around 2050, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases. Regarding mitigation, this pact “calls upon” to transition towards low-emission energy systems and “emphasizes the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems”. However, this pact does not explicitly mention mitigation measures within the food systems. In this regard, about 100 subnational and local governments have committed to take action with the “Glasgow food and climate declaration to develop sustainable food policies.

Food systems are key contributors to climate change, being responsible for 34% of current global anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions; as recently published by Crippa et al. (2021). This means that 18 Gt CO2eq, emitted annually to the atmosphere, are related to food. With the current urge to mitigate climate change together with the fact that food has a big contribution; rethinking our food systems is a key action to reach global climate targets.

Another key question is how circular economy can help to mitigate climate change by reducing the greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. In general -not only related to food-, 55% of the global GHG emissions are attributed to the type of energy source that is being used; and 45% are caused by land use and the manufacture of goods (EMF, 2021). In particular, material production causes 21% of current GHG emissions (see Figure 1). While the transition to renewables can reduce the emissions of the 55% GHG emissions; circular economy can reduce the emissions attributed to material production.

In food systems, most circular strategies focus on how food is produced and how food waste can be reduced. While these are key aspects, applying circular strategies within the food distribution is also important. A key circular strategy is reusing products. By enhancing the lifetime and intensity of use of products, such as packaging, less manufacture of new products is needed, as well as the waste treatment; and, ultimately, the GHG emissions embedded to this production is reduced. In this regard, reusable plastic creates (RPCs) are a good example, such as shown in a previous study from ARECO. The Reusable Transport Packaging (RTP) is an approximately $100 billion business, with rigid containers, crates, totes, boxes and RPCs (as a group) accounting for 30% of this value. Moreover, its demand is expected to grow, and experts even say that the COVID-19 has accelerated this shift; a trend that can help to fulfill the commitments of the Glasgow Climate Act by reducing the GHG emissions of value chains.

By Laura Batlle Bayer, researcher of the ARECO postdoctoral fellowship at UNESCO Chair in Life Cycle and Climate Change.