Food Loss and Waste, and Climate Change: An Interdependent Relationship

food lossIn recent years, the issue of food loss and waste has received increasing attention as a central feature of the challenges and inefficiencies which characterize the global food system and consequently its social, economic and environmental implications [FAO, 2011; HLPE 2014]. Food losses and waste are of particular concern as drivers of climate change and environmental degradation, and for increasing vulnerability to food insecurity. Food that is produced but ultimately never consumed represents a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and diminishes the productive output of food systems, which in turn could potentially undermine both human and ecological capacities to cope with climate change.

Reducing the enormous amounts of food that are lost or wasted is one of the key priorities for improving sustainability within the food system, meeting the growing demand for food and driving climate action forward. This is emphasized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which sets a global target for food loss and waste reduction. The Paris Agreement also recognizes the importance of food security and food production systems in the response to climate change, while multiple countries have explicitly prioritized food value chain interventions in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This affirms a growing international recognition that actions within the food system will be central to meeting the global ambitions for sustainable development and climate stabilization.

Building on this momentum offers a key opportunity to respond to the food loss and waste challenge by aligning solutions with the broader objectives for sustainable development and climate ambitions. However, reducing global levels of food loss and waste is a multidimensional and complex challenge. The causes and drivers of food loss and waste are closely tied to unsustainable production and consumption patterns and a global inequity, which all together constitute fundamental barriers to sustainable development and action on climate change. Food losses principally occur because of infrastructural and capacity limitations along the food supply chain and the solutions often necessitate financial investments, which remain insufficient. Food waste on the other hand, is in most cases driven by consumption patterns and demands, which are shaped by commercialization, economic wealth and culture. Preventing food waste is therefore mainly related to addressing these systemic causes and enabling changes in consumer behaviour, along with promoting responsible valorization of food. Tackling the food loss and waste issue at the global level calls for multiple interventions and requires collective action towards integrated food system approaches that consider all risks, challenges, opportunities and potential trade-offs. This is also pertinent to advancing global climate action and many of the responses to food loss and waste present an opportunity to scale up climate technologies and climate-smart practices within the food system. In developing countries where value chain infrastructure, coordination and capacity constraints are major causes of food losses and waste, targeting climate-smart solutions across the food system could potentially help to unlock increased financial flows needed for their implementation. However, this will require strengthened regulatory frameworks along with policy coherence to underpin the incentives needed to mobilize investments, especially from private sources. In this respect, targeted support will be critical to ensure that policy frameworks and economic incentives are consistently aligned with the goals for food loss and waste reduction and climate action.

Defining Food Loss and Waste

Food loss and waste food loss is defined as a decrease in quantity and quality of agricultural, forestry and fisheries products intended for human consumption that are ultimately not eaten by people. Food loss occurs along the supply chain from production, to harvest, post-harvest handling, to storage and processing, and during transportation. Food losses are largely unintentional and are caused by inefficiencies in the food system, such as insufficient access to technologies and energy, poor infrastructure and logistics, inadequate market access as well as managerial limitations and capacity constraints of supply chain actors. Climatic factors and variability such as extreme events, along with pests and diseases, are also causes of food losses.

Food Waste refers to food appropriate for human consumption being discarded, either by choice or after the food has been left to spoil or expire as a result of negligence or oversupply. Food waste occurs predominantly, but not exclusively, at consumption level and is often related to consumer behaviour as well as being policy and regulatory driven.

Food Loss and Waste is defined as a decrease, at all stages of the food system from production to consumption, in mass and/or quality, of food that was originally intended for human consumption, regardless of the cause. [Source: FAO, 2014 and HLPE, 2014].

Global Context and Implications

According to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, approximately one-third of food produced for human consumption globally is either lost or wasted, amounting to about 1.3 billion tons per year [FAO, 2011]. When the inedible parts of food are accounted for this figure rises to an annual 1.6 billion tons of food and by-products that are produced in vain [FAO, 2013a], with serious and far reaching environmental, social and economic impacts.

Food is lost or wasted throughout the food system, from the initial production to final household consumption. This is due to inefficiencies and constraints in global food production and supply systems, together with unsustainable consumption patterns.

* Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA). Read the full report on

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