At COP27, experts have called for increased investment in sustainable food cold chains to decrease hunger, provide livelihoods to communities, and adapt to climate change.
“At a time when the international community must act to address the climate and food crises, sustainable food cold chains can make a massive difference,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “They allow us to reduce food loss, improve food security, slow greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, reduce poverty and build resilience – all in one fell swoop.”
The number of people affected by hunger in the world rose to 828 million in 2021, a year-on-year rise of 46 million.
Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, as the economic impacts of the Covid pandemic drove up inflation. This year, meanwhile, the conflict in Ukraine has raised the prices of basic grains threatening food security.
As post-harvest food loss reduces the income of 470 million small-scale farmers by 15%, mainly in developing countries investing in sustainable food cold chains would help lift these farm families out of poverty.
The food cold chain has serious implications for climate change and the environment. Emissions from food loss and waste due to lack of refrigeration totalled an estimated 1 gigatonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2017 – about 2% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
In particular, it contributes to emissions of methane, a potent but short-lived climate pollutant. Taking action now would contribute to reducing atmospheric concentrations of methane this decade.
Overall, the food cold chain is responsible for around 4% of total global greenhouse gas emissions – when emissions from cold chain technologies and food loss caused by lack of refrigeration are included.
Lost food also damages the natural world by driving unnecessary conversion of land for agricultural purposes and use of resources such as water, fossil fuels and energy.
Reducing food loss and waste could make a positive impact on climate change, but only if new cooling-related infrastructure is designed to use gases with low global warming potential, be energy efficient and run on renewable energy.
The adoption of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and the Rome Declaration on “the contribution of the Montreal Protocol to sustainable cold chain development for food waste reduction” provide a unique opportunity to accelerate the deployment of sustainable food cold chains.
Projects around the world show that sustainable food cold chains are already making a difference. In India, a food cold chain pilot project reduced losses of kiwi fruit by 76% while reducing emissions through the expansion of use of refrigerated transport.
In Nigeria, a project to install 54 operational ColdHubs prevented the spoilage of 42,024 tonnes of food and increased the household income of 5,240 small-scale farmers, retailers and wholesalers by 50%.
Africa Science News