Published 1 year ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Pierre Bamin/Unsplash
Detailed disclosure is critical in climate action plans. An emissions-reduction target is insufficient without baseline emissions data to
compare it to; because investors and stakeholders have no way of knowing if major sources of emissions are going unmeasured, undisclosed and unaddressed.
The most recent IPCC
gave a dire warning: Either dramatically reduce emissions immediately or
experience unprecedented threats to ecosystems, economies and communities. These
threats are already playing out in the global food economy, which according to
the report is experiencing a significant reduction in food production from
pre-climate change levels.
The food system is not just under threat from climate change — it contributes to
it, as well: A third of global greenhouse
gas emissions comes from the food
sector. In order to avoid the future described by the IPCC report, food
companies need to increase the ambition of their greenhouse gas emission
There have been encouraging recent moves from food companies: Over the past six
months, big names including
Bunge, Smuckers and
have come out with plans that hit many of the marks that advocates say are
necessary to curb the worst effects of climate change. But new research from
Ceres shows that these high-profile commitments don’t
paint an accurate picture of the ambition of the sector as a whole.
from Food Emissions
50 — an investor
initiative engaging 50 of the top carbon-emitting food companies in North
on climate action — found that over half of the companies on the list have not
disclosed or set greenhouse gas reduction targets that cover the full scope of
their emissions. And out of the 23 companies that did disclose the full scope
of their emissions in their supply chains, only four specify the amount that
comes from deforestation and agriculture.
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According to the benchmark data, the ambition of climate action varies wildly
across the different food industry subsectors. Some packaged foods companies are
performing well, such as
— which discloses a breakdown of all emissions in its entire supply chain,
including those from agriculture and farming. While companies in the
supercenters and hypermarkets sector are not scoring well in the benchmark,
Walmart stands out as a
company with a long and complex supply chain that is working closely with
suppliers to help them set their own emission-reduction targets. Regular grocery
stores are bringing up the rear, with none of the seven companies benchmarked
fully disclosing supply chain emissions or setting emission-reduction targets.
Detailed disclosure is a critical piece of climate action plans. Without it, it
is impossible to know exactly which emissions a company is counting. With food
companies, it’s particularly important to know whether deforestation and
particularly agriculture — the biggest source of emissions for most food
companies — is excluded from targets. That allows emissions to go unmeasured,
undisclosed, and unaddressed.
Incomplete disclosures can also lead to opaque commitments. A target to reduce
emissions by a certain percentage is insufficient without baseline emissions
data to compare it to, because investors and stakeholders then have no way of
knowing if the proposed reduction is significant enough to make a difference. If
emissions disclosures are incomplete, they could be vastly underreported.
For example: this year,
Chipotle set an
emissions-reduction target inclusive of scope 3 emissions, but it has not
disclosed its baseline scope 3 emissions. Pilgrim’s
Pride and JBS
USA are both held to the net-zero
commitment of their parent company,
JBS; but neither have set
reduction targets or disclosed their own scope 3 emissions. The same is true for
which has a general emissions target but no scope 3 disclosure.
Investors are ratcheting up their scrutiny of food companies’ disclosure along
with targets. According to Ceres data, over 100
seeking emissions disclosure and target setting were filed last year — several
of them for food and beverage companies. This year is shaping up to be the same:
A resolution was
in January by investor Green Century for
one of the companies on the Food Emissions 50 list that has not set targets or
Investors notice this lack of transparency. For targets to be credible,
companies need to share how they established an emissions baseline and developed
the emissions-reduction targets. If companies are not disclosing full scope
emissions, investors will not have confidence in the company achieving their
targets. Now more than ever, food companies need to show their work.
Published Mar 10, 2022 1pm EST / 10am PST / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET
Dr. Julie Nash is director of the food and forests team at Ceres.