Knowledge for better food systems

Paper on the effects of resource efficiency on GHG emissions

This paper looks at both production and consumption side resource efficiency measures focusing on a range of measures.

A  couple of food relevant paragraphs and conclusions:

“… the food sector is clearly one area where significant reductions in emissions are possible. Changing diets to reduce meat consumption can save 846 million tonnes and ensuring that edible food is not treated as waste, a GHG emission reduction of about 456 million tonnes is possible by 2050. Changing diets clearly achieves a larger reduction, mainly because it achieves a reduction in meat processing, one of the most carbon intensive sectors in the UK. The strategy assumes that household meat consumption reduces by a quarter by 2020, 50% by 2050 and 75% by 2050 (Quick Win, Best Practice and Beyond Best Practice respectively). It does not assume that this is substituted by another food type as the average UK diet would benefit from reduced calorie intake. Achieving such a large shift in consumer preferences is not an easy task, but simple steps can be taken in the short term, for example vegetarian events catering, with the government leading by example.”


“Compared to production-side strategies, consumption-side strategies are able to influence a wider scope of emissions due to the inclusion of emissions embodied in imports and the UK’s projected increasing reliance on trade. Product optimisation, product lifetime extension and dietary changes are three key strategies that will contribute to improving material efficiency. The earlier these strategies are taken up, the lesser emissions will cumulate in the atmosphere. Due to the scale of reductions needed every sector needs to play its part in reducing emissions (and the sooner the better), however some quite radical changes were introduced with minimal impact, demonstrating that improving the material efficiency of goods and service sectors have a fairly limited role in climate change compared to that of say energy and transport. However, the uncertainty associated with future energy technologies means that short term measures play a critical role in managing emissions now and leading the UK on a low carbon transition pathway.”



This paper provides an in-depth analysis of the links between dematerialisation and climate change mitigation. Methods used for material flow analyses (MFA) within the wider context of industrial ecology (which includes a focus on all resource flows in an economy, not purely material tonnage) tend to focus either on detoxification and pollution reduction or dematerialisation and resource productivity. An environmentally extended input–output (EEIO) model incorporates both aspects, which need to be dealt with when looking at how to meet challenging greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets. The approach understands both production systems and consumption patterns and has the ability through scenarios to analyse the (GHG) effectiveness of a wide range of material efficiency options. This analysis adopts an environmentally extended input–output approach to assess the role of material efficiency measures in reducing UK GHG emissions by 2050. A method for projecting the variables and parameters in the model, including the supply of and demand for materials and products, is presented and applied to investigate thirteen material efficiency strategies in the UK.



Barrett J and Scott K (2012). Link between climate change mitigation and resource efficiency: A UK case study, Global Environmental Change, 22, 1, 299–307

You can download the paper here (subscription access only).
This is actually a journal summary of a report that was commissioned and published by WRAP a while back – see here for an FCRN summary.

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