Top sustainability trends for 2022, greening air travel and discussing plant-based diets

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The World Economic Forum has once again postponed its annual event in Davos, Switzerland, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but its 2022 annual Global Risks Report has been released as scheduled. The report draws on the insights of more than 1,000 academic, business, government, civil society and thought leaders, as well as 12,000 national leaders, on their perception of risk in the short, medium and long term. Risks associated with climate change, such as ‘extreme weather’ and ‘failure of climate action’, dominate short-, medium- and long-term concerns. The latter is also cited as one of the risks that has worsened since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the erosion of social cohesion and livelihood crises.

The report is not light or fun reading, but knowledge is power and only awareness of the risks we face can help us avoid them (as a certain movie says, “look up!”). Other stories I’m highlighting this week include the energy forecast for 2022, Denmark’s commitment to make domestic flights fossil-free by 2030, and how best to prepare a business for climate stress testing.

In Climate Talks, to tag ‘Veganuary’, I spoke to Richard Waite, senior research associate at the World Resource Institute, about how a plant-based diet can impact carbon emissions from agriculture .

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Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced her intention to make domestic flights without fossil energy by 2030. Some experts believe this is an achievable goal.

A bill proposed in the New York State would require mega-brands to increase the transparency of their supply chains and their social impact.

Asia’s richest businessman Mukesh Ambani has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian state government of Gujarat to invest $80 billion in green projects, which, if realized, would allow the state to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2035.


California is considering changing its net metering rules this would dramatically increase the time it takes for solar panel installations to provide a return on investment and would have a profound impact on the solar energy and storage markets, as well as carbon reduction targets.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated that natural disasters cost US$145 billion in 2021, the third highest Invoice checked in after 2017 and 2005.

At the current rate, the Earth will have warmed by 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times in 2033— a level of warming that experts hoped would not see this century.

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Climate Talks

Richard Waite is Senior Research Associate, Food Program, at the World Resource Institute. As more and more people choose to start the year by trying a vegan diet, an initiative known as Veganuary, I spoke to Waite about how a plant-based diet can impact your carbon emissions from agriculture.

Agriculture contributes more than a quarter of total global greenhouse gas emissions. What are the main drivers of emissions in this sector?

Agriculture causes greenhouse gas emissions in two main ways. The first is through the agricultural production process itself – emissions that occur on farms like cow burps or nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer use, or methane emissions from rice paddies. , and emissions that come from the production of agricultural inputs, such as the production of fertilizers. And then the other category is emissions due to land use change, deforestation. Agriculture is the main historic and current driver of deforestation, and tropical deforestation continues. Some people watch the food too [once it] goes to landfills, rots and [emits] methane, and then you’re up to about a third of the total greenhouse gas emissions.

Livestock farming accounts for about two-thirds of agricultural production. Emissions and animal agriculture account for about three-quarters of agricultural land use, so it’s a big contributor to both of these emission sources. In the United States, more than 80% of the emissions from our agricultural production are related to animal agriculture, and nearly half of those come from beef alone. High emissions from land use for animal agriculture pose a challenge, as the world is likely to add another two billion more people by 2050. But at the same time, we need to stop deforestation. We must bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Thus, meat-rich diets make it more difficult to balance food security and global environmental goals. Another thing to also think about is the differential impacts of food. If you look at per gram of protein, beef takes up about seven times the land, and its production emits seven times more greenhouse gases than chicken production, and 20 times the land and greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse as beans per gram of protein.

What you describe is a complex and challenging picture. Whenever people ask “what can I do to stop climate change“, switching to a plant-based diet is usually one of the top answers, but is a change in consumer demand enough? to push carbon reduction in the sector?

The challenge of feeding 10 billion people and meeting these global environmental goals is so great that you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket – forgive the food pun. We must continue to improve agriculture as much as possible, and that includes animal husbandry. We also need to look at consumption patterns. When you think about what an individual can do, there are usually two things. If you eat a lot of meat and especially beef, switching to a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to go vegan or vegetarian. For example, we looked at a scenario where everyone in the north of the world reduced their beef consumption to no more than one and a half burgers per person per week. This has reduced emissions and land demand so much that it has made it possible to feed 10 billion people without further deforestation. So it’s a potentially quite powerful solution. Then the other thing is to minimize food waste, as more than a third of all the food produced in the world is lost or wasted between farm and landfill.

As with any climate solution, it is not enough for the individuals concerned to change their consumption habits. These are the decisions that businesses and governments make. We have an initiative called Cool Food where we work with foodservice companies that commit to reducing their food-related emissions by 25% by 2030 by serving more delicious, climate-friendly food. We help them measure their greenhouse gas footprint over time and bring insights from behavioral science to ensure the change they make will satisfy consumers. We have seen some really exciting progress as they have already been able to reduce their emissions per plate by 16% through 2020.

In terms of reducing carbon emissions, is it enough to switch from a beef burger to a vegetable burger in a fast food chain or do we need to rethink the way we eat globally?

There’s no silver bullet, but there are a lot of things that push things in the right direction. Different consumers will likely be interested in different things. Some people who really like meat [will enjoy] those products that mimic the taste and texture of meat, but at a much lower impact, others may consume more beans and fruits and vegetables and whole grains and so on. And some would say both. At the societal level, it all adds up.

What do consumers looking to shift to more sustainable food consumption need to keep in mind when shopping and eating out, and can carbon labels be effective in supporting these decisions?

Two basic rules are: minimize the food you waste and adopt a more plant-centered diet, not necessarily vegan or vegetarian. Hopefully in the future we can have credible carbon labeling. But consumers are already bombarded with too much information when they go to the store, which adds complicated eco-labels. [might not] change things too much. As part of the Cool Food initiative that I mentioned, in 2020 we launched the school meals program. It’s a small badge that says “cool food meal” that accompanies meals or menus that fall below a certain greenhouse gas threshold. Now that we’ve been doing this for about a year, we’re going to start evaluating [its impact] on food purchasing decisions, which are generally driven by taste, price and convenience. Next week, we’ll also be releasing research looking at different climate messages around food, to see what kinds of messages resonate with consumers.

Richard Waite’s responses have been edited and condensed for clarity and conciseness.

on the horizon

As we venture further into this crucial decade for making a meaningful dent in global carbon emissions, here’s who trends are likely to dominate the coming year in terms of energy transition, food sustainability and ESG strategies.

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