What should your daily carbon footprint from food be?
Our goal is to help you understand your carbon footprint, allowing you to eat a low carbon diet and live a sustainable lifestyle. We therefore calculated a fair daily food emissions value (FDFE) to use in our carbon footprint calculator. Just like nutritional information, your results are displayed as a percentage of this recommended daily amount.
The emissions value is based on global greenhouse gas emissions and populations. It is intended to apply to you wherever you are. Crucially, we have adopted the UN’s projection that annual emissions must fall by 7.6% each year until 2030 in order to limit global warming to less than 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels (the ‘Paris Agreement’ target).
Maintaining your diet below the target value means your food emissions are at a good level. Given at least 20% of global emissions come from food, this will have a real impact on the environment and help to limit global warming to a manageable level.
A global value, rather than values by region
We initially investigated using a target emission value for each country. However, it quickly became apparent the wide range of emissions between different countries – for example, emissions from the top 10 emitting nations are responsible for well over 50% of total emissions each year (this can be easily seen using these graphs).
It did not feel right asking people in low-emitting countries to reduce their food emissions. Instead, we decided to use a global value that applies to everyone, no matter where you live in the world. This does mean that those in high-emitting countries have extra pressure to reduce their food emissions. However, we believe this is right – if your carbon footprint is higher than average, it means you bear greater responsibility to reduce your emissions.
The value must be applied over time
Our fair daily value is based on an annual amount spread out across the year. Whilst your diet on a given day may be at or below this value, your overall diet will not be sustainable if on other days your carbon footprint from food is much higher.
In order to have a sustainable diet, your average daily food emissions must be below this value over a prolonged period of time. For this reason, it is vitally important you track your diet and its carbon footprint. We recommend you use our calculator at least once a week, to ensure that you are making improvements to your diet and lifestyle.
Calculating the fair daily food emissions value
We calculated the fair daily emissions value by dividing the total greenhouse gas emissions by the global population. In 2018, global greenhouse gas emissions amounted to about 49.5 GtCO2e. This is based on the 37.1 GtCO2 recorded by the Global Carbon Project, and the fact that CO2 emissions make up 75% of the total GHG emissions. The World’s population in 2018 was about 7.6 billion people. EU data from 2018 shows that food contributes to at least 20% of emissions. In fact, the value is probably higher than 20%, but we have used a lower known value.
Using the UN’s target of reducing emissions by 7.6% each year, your recommended annual footprint for 2020 is therefore 5,561 kgCO2e. Taking 20% as the minimum percentage for food, we generated a globally fair daily food emissions value of 3.05 kgCO2e/day.
Updating the value
We expect this value to be reduced for 2021, in line with the UN’s projections that emissions must fall annually by 7.6%. It will also need to be updated to reflect the increasing global population. We might also update this value in response to new research and data which becomes available to us.
A consequence of this is that we must constantly adapt our diet and lifestyle to maintain a sustainable diet. It means what is a ‘sustainable lifestyle’ in 2020 may not be in 2021. We are therefore encouraging everyone to constantly make small improvements to their lifestyles to reduce their emissions. We believe this is the best way to protect our environment.
How do I reduce my carbon footprint from food?
The first step to reduce your carbon footprint from food is understanding what are the low carbon foods. A great way to do this is by using our daily food carbon footprint calculator. Utilising the fair daily emissions value, the results show you the carbon emissions from your food, which will help you maintain a more sustainable diet.
- Eurostat [env_ac_io10]. Accessed 12th June 2020
- Le Quéré C, Andrew R, Friedlingstein P, et al ‘Global Carbon Budget 2018’ Earth System Science Data (2018) 10, 2141–94. https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-10-2141-2018
- US Environmental Protection Agency, ‘Global Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gas Emission Projections & Mitigation’, https://www.epa.gov/global-mitigation-non-co2-greenhouse-gases/global-non-co2-greenhouse-gas-emission-projections. Accessed 6th July 2020
- United Nations Environment Programme (2019). Emissions Gap Report 2019. UNEP, Nairobi