Businesses urged to tackle hidden carbon emissions from food imports

UK businesses must take stronger action to reduce the ‘hidden’ carbon emissions embedded in food imports, says a new report from the Fairtrade Foundation.

In the report, published to mark Fairtrade Fortnight, the organisation argues that current efforts by the UK government and businesses fall short of what is needed to protect small-scale farmers from the of climate crisis in low-income countries.

Government figures show that 46% of emissions linked to UK consumption are created overseas, while 54% is domestically produced. Therefore, the Fairtrade Foundation is urging the government and private sector to take stronger, faster action to drive down emissions in agricultural supply chains, to support farmers and safeguard the future of imported favourites such as coffee, cocoa and bananas that are at risk from changing weather patterns.

The report says businesses could achieve this through a number of methods, including:

  • Promoting low carbon investment along supply chains and tackling their carbon footprint
  • Supporting innovation and investment in zero-carbon freight solutions
  • Helping farmers and workers adapt to the changing climate and move to low-carbon production methods by paying higher prices for the produce they buy

If the UK’s hidden carbon footprint were a country, it would rank higher than over 170 other nations in the global tally of biggest emitters, Fairtrade Foundation has calculated.

Supply chain emissions – the business imperative

The report comes at a time when there is an increasing pressure on businesses in the UK to account for and address their supply chain emissions, also known as “Scope 3 emissions”.

The best estimates place Scope 3 emissions somewhere between 80% and 97% of total emissions for a large business. They largely fall outside of the scope of SECR, the mandatory carbon reporting framework for large businesses, but reporting is strongly encouraged if they are a significant source of emissions. It is likely that Scope 3 reporting will be included in SECR over the coming years to better align the scheme with the UK’s net zero target.

Mike Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, commented: “Although the UK is on a welcome path to net zero emissions, if we don’t own up to our hidden emissions, our climate policy will never fully succeed in driving down our true footprint. Not only is the climate emergency threatening the livelihoods of farmers in low-income nations, it’s also jeopardising the future viability of their crops. We must stop outsourcing the burden of responsibility for tackling UK-driven emissions to other countries, including much poorer ones who have done the least to cause climate change.”

To learn more about supply chain emissions, check out our frequently asked questions on Scope 3.