Big ten food companies emit more greenhouse gases than Scandinavia

THE ‘Big 10’ food and drink companies together emit more greenhouse gases than Scandinavia and, if they were an individual country, would rank as the 25th most polluting, Oxfam revealed today. It warned that companies are risking financial ruin if they do not do more to tackle climate change.

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In its new report Standing on the Sidelines, the international agency says that the ’Big 10’ emit more than Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland’s total of 250 million tons of greenhouse gases, according to the latest available figures. The big 10’s 264 million tons would rank them between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, placed 24th and 26th respectively.


Oxfam says the companies are capable of cutting their combined emissions by 80 million tons compared to business as usual by 2020 – as much as both Mexico and South Africa have pledged. The companies are not doing enough despite the threat climate change poses to the sustained supply of ingredients they need for their products, their economic might and the need to feed a growing population. Between them, they generate £650 million ($1.1 billion) a day in revenues, equivalent to the total gross domestic product of all the world’s lower income countries.


The ‘Big 10’ are Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever. Climate change contributes to storms, floods, droughts and shifting weather patterns, which affect food supplies and are putting pressure on prices, causing more hunger and poverty. Experts predict that by 2050 there will be 50 million more people made hungry because of climate change. Oxfam projects that the price of key products like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes could spike by up to 44% in the next 15 years because of climate change.


Oxfam’s director of UK campaigns and policy Sally Copley said: “By failing to cut emissions adequately the ‘Big 10’ are putting short term profits ahead of the long term interests of both themselves and the rest of us.


“Their influence and wealth are the perfect ingredients to stop putting their businesses at risk and making climate change worse. They need to look at the whole picture from how their ingredients are grown to how their goods are produced to cut emissions. They also need to pressure businesses and governments to do what is needed to tackle climate change and help build a future where everyone has enough to eat.”


Oxfam says that the food industry drives around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions and that these emissions are growing as demand for food rises. Experts say that if the world is to avoid warming of more than 2C, rising emissions from deforestation and agriculture need to be reversed by 2050 and agriculture and forests need to together become a carbon sink – effectively removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.


Of the ‘Big 10’s’ total emissions, about half come from the production of agricultural materials from their supply chains, yet these emissions are not covered by the reduction targets the companies have set. It is with these agricultural emissions that Oxfam finds the companies being particularly negligent.


Some of the ‘Big 10’ companies admit that climate change is already beginning to harm them financially. Unilever says it now loses $415 million a year, while General Mills reported losing 62 days of production in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 alone because of extreme weather conditions that are growing worse because of climate change.


Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Nestle were more assertive than their rivals in their policies and actions to tackle climate change, though they all still had a lot of room for improvement.


Oxfam singled out Kellogg and General Mills as two of the worst on climate and is calling on them to lead the sector towards more responsible policies and practices. Oxfam says they should disclose their agricultural emissions and biggest polluting suppliers, set targets to cut emissions from their supply chains and speak out more to other industries and governments to address the climate crisis.


Oxfam’s investigation shows:

  • All of the ‘Big 10’ recognise the need to reduce indirect agricultural emissions within their supply chains and seven of them annually measure and report on these emissions through the Carbon Disclosure Project– but not Kellogg, General Mills or Associated British Foods
  • Only Unilever and Coca-Cola have committed to reduction targets that address emissions in their supply chains, but none of the ‘Big 10’ have committed to clear reduction targets specific to their agricultural emissions
  • None of the ‘Big 10’ require their suppliers to set targets to reduce emissions
  • All of the ‘Big 10’ have set targets to reduce emissions from their operations, but these are often not science-based and don’t reflect their full contribution to the problem
  • Several of the ‘Big 10’ companies have committed to ambitious timelines to end deforestation in their supply chains for palm oil but only Mars and Nestle extend these policies to other commodities that are drivers of deforestation and land use change
  • An Indonesian company that sells palm oil to Cargill, a supplier of Kellogg and General Mills and other food industry giants, is allegedly involved in burning forest land to produce palm oil and contributing to a massive forest fire that alone created greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the annual emission from 10.3 million cars
  • With the exception of Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mars, the companies are not doing enough to publicly urge government and other businesses to do more to tackle climate change. This includes challenging damaging or inadequate positions of trade associations that represent them.