11th January 2019

The Challenge

The food system accounts for 20-25% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions emerge from many different steps in the food production. Most important are nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide from agricultural soils and methane from ruminants and manure storages. Important are also emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from fertilizer manufacture, as well as carbon dioxide from machinery, processing and transport.

The greenhouse effect

The atmosphere naturally contains a number of different gases that absorb heat from Earth. The most important ones are water (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3). This is known as the greenhouse effect, and without it, Earth would have been about 30°C cooler. The greenhouse effect is essential for our life on Earth. However, ever since the industrial revolution human activity has led to an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The result is higher average global temperatures. This sudden global warming imposes serious risks to agriculture, ecosystems, water availability, human health and our built environment.

Today virtually all sectors of the economy contribute to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases. The food system accounts for 20-25% of the world’s total emissions. Reducing the carbon footprint of food is therefore an important part in reaching our climate targets, such as the Paris agreement. There is a large difference in climate impact between different types of food. By choosing what to eat consumers can make a significant reduction in their carbon footprint. There is also potential to reduce the climate impact of certain food products at the production stage.

What type of emissions come from food production?

An important source of greenhouse gas emissions from food production is nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils. This is an inevitable part of agriculture and is related to the nitrogen fertilization of soils, essential for plant growth. These emissions emerge regardless of whether the soil is fertilized with manure or mineral fertilizers.

Agricultural soils are also a source of direct release and uptake of carbon dioxide. Different soils act as sources or sinks. For instance, carbon dioxide is released when crops are grown on organic soils whereas semi-natural pastures contribute to carbon sequestration.

Another large share of emissions is methane from livestock feed digestion (“enteric fermentation”) and rice paddies. Manure storages also generate methane as well as nitrous oxide. 

Further there are emissions that emerge from the manufacture of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other inputs. These emissions are mainly carbon dioxide, as fossil fuels are used in most of these processes. Carbon dioxide is also released from fuel and electricity for machinery, transport and distribution of food, irrigation, heating, drying, processing, packaging and storage. These energy-related emissions are normally a small part of the total climate impact from the food system.    

Another category of emissions is the indirect emissions from land use change. Every year forests and other types of natural vegetation is cleared and replaced by cropland and pasture. Natural vegetation and soils contain large amounts of carbon and much of this is emitted in the form of carbon dioxide when this land is cleared. It is difficult to link these emissions to the demand for specific crops. Since there is no established methodology for this purpose, emissions from land use change are not included in the calculations done by CarbonCloud. 

CarbonCloud provides two solutions to the climate challenge

CarbonAte, a tool that makes it easy for the restaurants and their guests to make climate smart choices.
CarbonData, a tool that makes it easy for the food producer to make their products more climate friendly and to be transparent and communicate their awesomeness to their customers.