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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

The Food System’s Carbon Footprint Has Been Vastly Underestimated

As drought, heatwaves, and hurricanes ramp up for the summer, and the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit draws near, a group of scientists and policy experts hope to send a clear message about just how big a role food plays in warming the planet.

For nearly three decades, nations have reported greenhouse gas emissions inventories to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty aimed at stabilizing the climate. The idea is that by tracking emissions across sectors, the inventories reveal where climate action is most urgently needed. The food system encompasses much more than agriculture, and yet under the reporting guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), many other factors—such as packaging, transportation, disposal, and agriculture-driven deforestation—haven’t been tallied together. And for that reason, the food system’s overall share of emissions has long been underestimated.

A new analysis aims to change that. Experts from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York University, and Columbia University have developed an accounting system to capture the food system’s overall role in the climate crisis.