EXTREME WEATHER is an increasing threat to global food production but strong leadership was lacking from politicians at the UN climate conference. Foodservice now has a chance to set the agenda, says David Read.
Few people get to experience what a farmer goes through at harvest. At once, a whole year’s labour and planning is converted into either a fat paycheque or a crushing disappointment. Farmers have increasingly had to face up to the latter.
This year Mike Thomas from the National Farmers Union (NFU) told the Independent that the last 12 months have been “unreal” for farmers. “Last April we had a drought and talk of a hosepipe ban, then we had to contend with heavy rains and flooding and then the wintry weather, frozen land and snow,” he explained. This unusual weather has meant that the UK has produced the smallest wheat crop since 2001.
In agriculture, certainty breeds productivity. But climate change has made our weather more unpredictable than ever. It’s the single greatest factor that affects global production. It’s not just a problem for the UK. In Australia, frost and rain have devastated this year’s wheat harvest. According to US Drought Monitor, over 50% of the US is currently in drought.
Crops such as soya and wheat are fundamental to feeding our planet – they are used to make cattle feed and bread, some of the basic building blocks for our diets.
At a time when population growth is soaring, we should be producing more food, not less. However, the damage to production caused by climate change is deeply threatening to our planet. Creating the conditions for the right availability and quality of produce we need, at the right price, has to be top of the government’s agenda.
This is a global issue of the greatest importance, and it isn’t going to fix itself. Strong leadership and champions who will inspire others to change their behaviour every day are needed, but this leadership seemed lacking in Warsaw at the 2013 United Nations Climate Change Conference. In fact, some of the richer countries made U-turns on their climate change commitments.
Japan, for instance, announced that it will backtrack on its pledge to reduce emissions by 25%; instead it will aim to cut them by just 3.8% by 2020, blaming the adjusted target on the closure of nuclear plants after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Australia, which failed to send a minister to the conference, signalled that it may weaken its targets and Canada has pulled out of the Kyoto accord altogether.
Back at home, George Osborne has stated that he doesn’t want Britain to lead from the front in tackling climate change. This is deeply concerning. Britain is one of the world’s richest nations, and the chancellor’s statement opens the door for other countries to change their targets and aspirations.
While the circumstances and issues involved in these decisions are complex, great politicians find a way of cutting through these issues to lead on critical matters. And there exists a great opportunity for the government to work more closely with sectors such as foodservice to help pave the way.
In 2000, the UK government wanted to increase the country’s research and development base. To achieve this, it started to introduce tax credits for companies that undertook R&D projects. This created a change in entrepreneurial behaviour that created a culture of investment in innovation. Today, the government has an opportunity to provide similar tax breaks for those in the hospitality industry that take the lead in reducing their carbon emissions.
I feel this would be much more effective than legislation because rather than creating a layer of bureaucracy around measurement (as happened, for example, with Home Information Packs), this is a non-interventionist way to inspire people to change behaviour.
Food production and consumption contribute up to 29% of the planet’s total greenhouse emissions. The majority of a typical foodservice business’s emissions can be found in its supply chain, with agriculture alone contributing up to 86% of the carbon emissions for food systems.
The carbon champions in this sector that take steps to reduce emissions through their supply chains, such as the National Trust, Accor, TUI and Sodexo, should be rewarded by the government. By working together to inspire others to do the same, hospitality and foodservice can take the leadership stance that is desperately needed to tackle climate change.
David read is chief executive of Prestige Purchasing