Fossil Fuel Usage in Food Production Equals EU and Russia’s Emissions

A recent report, released on November 2, 2023, has unveiled a startling revelation: food production is responsible for approximately 15 percent of global fossil fuel usage each year, equivalent to a staggering 4.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. This finding places food production’s emissions on par with the combined emissions of all European Union countries and Russia. This report represents the first-ever comprehensive estimate of global fossil fuel usage across the entire food supply chain, spanning from farm to table.

Petrochemical Investments Reinforce Carbon Reliance

The data exposes a concerning trend: as the world shifts away from fossil fuels for transportation and energy, the fossil fuel industry is doubling down on its investments in petrochemicals. These investments are used to manufacture plastics, pesticides, and fertilizers, reinforcing the food system’s reliance on high-carbon energy sources.

Fossil Fuels Weave Through Food Production

The report, published by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and Dalberg Advisers, reveals that fossil fuels play a crucial role at every stage of the industrial food production value chain. These stages include input production, land use and agricultural production, processing and packaging, and retail, consumption, and waste.

A Call for Systemic Change

Advocating for a radical transformation of food systems, the report underscores the urgent need to sever the connection between food production and fossil fuels. Under a business-as-usual scenario, global food demand is projected to rise by 35-56 percent by 2050, leading to a corresponding surge in fossil fuel consumption.

Energy Demands Across the Food Chain

Energy is a vital component at multiple stages of the food production process, including production and packaging, operation of machinery and equipment, transportation systems, storage, and cooking. Among these stages, processing and packaging are the most energy-intensive, accounting for approximately 42 percent of global energy consumption, followed closely by retail, consumption, and waste at 38 percent.

The Growing Impact of Food Transportation

Food transportation is a major driver of energy consumption, particularly as the distance food travels has increased by 25 percent over the past two decades. This trend has led to higher emissions due to the need for increased packaging and more stringent processing requirements.

High-Energy Retail and Waste

The “retail, consumption, and waste” stage of the food chain is heavily influenced by food transportation, embedded plastics, cooking, and food waste. This impact is especially pronounced in high-income countries, where retail operations require substantial energy due to the consumption of processed foods and the associated refrigeration demands.

Input and Agricultural Production

The input and agricultural production stages collectively account for 20 percent of energy consumption within food systems. Land use and agricultural production make up around 15 percent, while input production, including the fossil fuel-dependent production of fertilizers, contributes roughly 5 percent. The use of fossil fuels in fertilizer production is expected to rise significantly by 2050.

Corporate Concentration and Transformation

The report also highlights the domination of a few large multinational corporations in both the agri-food and energy sectors. These entities have a vested interest in maintaining the existing fossil fuel and chemical-dependent industrial food system. The authors emphasize the need to address corporate power concentration and promote the involvement of smallholder farmers, small-scale fishers, local communities, and other stakeholders in achieving real transformation in food systems.



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