Food accounts for 26% of our total consumer emissions. In 2022, the Climate Gap report found that overall, we seem to be moving in the right direction, but our figures suggest that the speed of change needs to increase if we are to reach our 2030 goals.
If we are to reverse this trend, the report highlights three key actions that all consumers must take:
- Reduce meat consumption by 20%
- Reduce dairy consumption by 20%
- Reduce food waste by 34%
In this page, we explore these actions: why they are necessary, how far we are from them, and the changes that businesses and governments can make to ensure we achieve these goals. We call on consumers to not only reduce their own emissions in the areas we have identified, but to also consider getting engaged with political campaigns trying to persuade the government and companies to take some of the actions identified too.
Food and the climate gap
The table below summarises what we think are the three most important opportunities for decarbonisation in the food impact area: meat, dairy and food waste. It also shows that, for the one area where we have year-on-year data, it appears that impacts increased rather than reduced.
Estimates of emissions from our food differ wildly:
- DEFRA estimates food and drink consumed in the UK at about 13% of our emissions but says that this excludes land use change like deforestation. 
- WRAP estimates it to be 21%. 
- A 2010 assessment by Cranfield University put it at 30% with land use change.
There are two big reasons for the disagreement. Firstly, emissions differ wildly depending on how you produce the food. Secondly, nobody is sure how to count the emissions of land use, partly because it depends on what the land would have been if you hadn’t farmed it.
When you are aiming for deep decarbonisation then land opportunity costs loom larger, because you have to use every resource to its maximum potential. And land can absorb carbon through restoration of ecosystems, or through biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Taking this into account can double the effective emissions of food. 
Climate impact of meat and dairy
By far the biggest way that consumers can reduce the greenhouse gas and land impacts of their food is reducing their consumption of products from ruminant animals (cows, sheep and goats), due to their methane impact and the land impact of grazing.
Below is one estimate of UK diets, which includes an estimate of emissions from actual land use change, although not the full opportunity costs of land use. 
|UK diet||Tonnes CO2e per year|
|High meat eaters||2.6|
|Medium meat eaters||2|
|Low meat eaters||1.7|
The CCC’s Balanced Scenario includes a 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030 and a further 15% meat reduction by 2050.
Climate impact of food waste
WRAP estimates that food waste makes up 3.6% of our emissions, because it has to be replaced with further production.  Householders account for about 70% of that.  The CCC includes a 50% cut in food waste on 2007 levels by 2030.
What other reductions are possible from food?
Emissions from agriculture can be further reduced through changing production methods – for example, using cover crops to reduce emissions from soil, and anaerobic digestion to reduce those from manure. These are part of the CCC’s scenarios, but it is not clear how consumers can help with them, so we aren’t tracking them at this stage.
The CCC’s scenarios also involve significant restoration of forests and peatlands within the UK. Land plays a huge role in any decarbonisation scenario for both supplying biomass and absorbing carbon.