The “Big 10” food and beverage companies are both highly vulnerable to climate change and major contributors to the problem. Together they emit so much greenhouse gas that, if they were a single country, they would be the 25th most polluting in the world – yet Oxfam says they’re not doing nearly enough to tackle it.
The “Big 10”, Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever, should be capable of cutting their combined emissions by a further 80 million tons by 2020, says Oxfam. This would be equivalent to taking all of the cars in Los Angeles, Beijing, London, and New York off the road.
Oxfam’s “Standing on the Sidelines” report published today is part of its “Behind the Brands” campaign looking at the social and environmental policies of the world’s biggest ten food and beverage companies. Previous “Behind the Brands” campaigns have convinced some of the biggest food companies on the planet to adopt stronger policies against land grabs and to improve women’s rights.
The “Big 10” together emit 263.7 million tons of GHGs – more than Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined. Emissions from their operations account for 29.8 million tons. Of their 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.
Climate change contributes to storms, floods, droughts and shifting weather patterns. This affects food supplies and is 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.
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. Oxfam projects that the price of key products like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and General Mills’ Kix cereal could spike by up to 44% in the next 15 years because of climate change.
Oxfam says that the food system drives around 25% of global GHG emissions and that these emissions are growing as demand for food rises. Experts say that if the world is to keep within a “safe” 2C threshold by 2050, net global emissions from agriculture and forests need to fall to zero and actually become a “carbon sink” by mid-century – working to remove GHGs from the atmosphere. Yet emissions trends are currently heading in the opposite direction.
“Too many of today’s food and beverage giants are crossing their fingers and hoping that climate change won’t disrupt the food system imagining somebody else will fix it. The “Big 10” companies generate over $1 billion a day and have great power to influence global food chains. The industry needs to do more to work towards ‘zero hunger’ in the world while undergoing a revolution in their production methods,” said Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima.
Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Nestle were all mentioned as being relatively more assertive 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 commit 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 Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mars being the exceptions, the companies are not doing enough to publicly urge government and other businesses to do more to tackle climate change, including by challenging damaging or inadequate positions of trade associations that represent them.
“The food industry has a moral imperative and a business responsibility to dramatically step up its efforts to tackle climate change,” said Byanyima. “The ‘Big 10’ companies are failing to use their power responsibly and we will all suffer the consequences. Kellogg and General Mills in particular are not doing their part. These companies should be leading the fight to help stop climate change from making people hungry. It’s time for them to get off the sidelines.”