BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Reducing food waste around the world would help curb emissions of planet-warming gases, lessening some of the impacts of climate change such as more extreme weather and rising seas, scientists said on Thursday.
Up to 14 percent of emissions from agriculture in 2050 could be avoided by managing food use and distribution better, according to a new study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
"Agriculture is a major driver of climate change, accounting for more than 20 percent of overall global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010," said co-author Prajal Pradhan.
"Avoiding food loss and waste would therefore avoid unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate climate change."
Between 30 and 40 percent of food produced around the world is never eaten, because it is spoiled after harvest and during transportation, or thrown away by shops and consumers.
The share of food wasted is expected to increase drastically if emerging economies like China and India adopt Western food habits, including a shift to eating more meat, the researchers warned.
Richer countries tend to consume more food than is healthy or simply waste it, they noted.
As poorer countries develop and the world's population grows, emissions associated with food waste could soar from 0.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year to between 1.9 and 2.5 gigatonnes annually by mid-century, showed the study published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal.
It is widely argued that cutting food waste and distributing the world's surplus food where it is needed could help tackle hunger in places that do not have enough - especially given that land to expand farming is limited.
But Jürgen Kropp, another of the study's co-authors and PIK's head of climate change and development, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the potential for food waste curbs to reduce emissions should be given more attention.
"It is not a strategy of governments at the moment," he said.
The researchers analyzed food requirements in the past and for different future scenarios.
They found that while global average food demand per person remains almost constant, in the last five decades food availability has rapidly increased - hiking the emissions related to growing surplus food by more than 300 percent.
The paper did not look at how food waste could be shrunk, but initiatives to tackle the problem are already on the rise in both developed and developing countries.
In January, for example, 30 company heads, government ministers, and executives with foundations, research groups and charities launched a coalition to work towards cutting food waste by half and reducing food loss significantly by 2030.
The aims are in line with the new global development goals that took effect this year.
"Champions 12.3", named after the food-waste goal number, includes the bosses of Tesco, Nestle, Rabobank, Unilever, Oxfam America, WWF International and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Andrew Steer, another coalition member who heads the World Resources Institute, noted then that if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
"Food loss and waste hurts people, costs money and harms the planet," he said in a statement. "Cutting (it) is a no-brainer."
(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)