Food Sector Failing to Set Paris-Aligned Emissions Targets

New benchmarking study finds lack of targets and disclosure on Scope 3 emissions.

Only 7.5% of the largest firms in the food and agriculture sector have emissions reduction strategies aligned to the Paris Agreement, according to the World Benchmarking Alliance’s (WBA) first assessment of the industry’s supply chain.

Just 26 of the 350 largest firms in the sector are working to reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through science-based targets consistent with a 1.5-degree Celsius warming trajectory. Thirty-five percent of companies surveyed have not set any targets for reducing their GHG emissions.

Although indirect Scope 3 emissions make up around 80% of the emissions of food companies, almost 60% of the WBA sample do not publicly report these supply chain emissions.

Last month, investor networks Ceres and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) released new guidance on how to engage with the food and beverage sector to decarbonise their supply chains, noting that land-based GHG emissions need to reduced by 85% to meet Paris Agreement goals.

In June, an investor coalition coordinated by the FAIRR initiative highlighted the lack of agriculture-specific emissions reductions targets in the updated nationally determined contributions of G20 countries head of COP26. Recent estimates suggest food systems are responsible for around one third of anthropogenic GHG emissions.

Companies “not feeling the need to adapt”

The WBA’s Food and Agriculture Benchmark ranks 350 companies across the sector’s value chain on their environmental, nutritional and social impact in alignment with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The firms in scope account for more than half of global food and agriculture revenue and 23 million direct employees.

The WBA ranking also includes a top 10 listing of firms that have demonstrated best practice in terms of commitments, measurable targets and meaningful impact. This listing included firms across the food and agriculture supply chain including Unilever, Nestle, Danone, PepsiCo, Diageo and Tesco. Companies are given a score out of 100, marked out of ten for governance and strategy, then out of 30 for environment, nutrition and social inclusion.

“The world is becoming ever-more conscious of the environmental destruction our food system is causing. Yet, many companies are not feeling the need to adapt, and smallholder farmers are hit hardest by the climate crisis,” said Viktoria de Bourbon de Parme, Head of Food and Agriculture Transformation at WBA.

The WBA is a non-profit organisation that assesses and ranks the world’s most influential companies’ performance on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All companies assessed are part of WBA’s SDG2000, a list measuring the 2000 most influential companies in the world towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The study highlighted shortcomings in the performance of food and agriculture firms on social factors as well as environmental ones, including specifically human rights, food security and nutrition. The WBA found that fewer than 3% of firms displayed a sufficient commitment to the elimination of forced labour, while even fewer demonstrated the ability to identify, assess and act on key human rights issues. A total of 58% do not yet explicitly ban child labour from their supply chains.

Well over half of firms surveyed failed to provide evidence of marketing strategies to prioritise healthy foods. Food retailers, restaurants and food service providers are among the lowest performing industries across the sector.


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