The big news, in brief: as temperatures rise, a hot US plant-based brand arrives in British pubs and the UK government goes cool on new junk food regulations.

Temperatures in India and Pakistan lingered around 50°C this week. To part-plagiarise the first line of Kim Stanley Robinson’s climate fiction book, The Ministry of the Future, it is getter hotterBut this is no story: this is real life. And it’s likely to get worse before it gets any better.

The chances of a record-breaking heatwave in north-west India and Pakistan has been made over 100 times more likely because of climate change, according to a Met Office study published this week. By the end of the century these regions could be looking at temperatures like they’re experiencing now “on average every year”. 

Weather wonks at the UN World Meteorological Organization had bad news too: four key climate change indicators – greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification – set new records in 2021, they said. UN secretary-general António Guterres used the report to criticise “the dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruption”.

The reports come six months after Cop26. Alok Sharma, Cop26 president, this week warned world leaders that failure to honour commitments made at the talks in November 2021 would be an “act of monstrous self-harm”. His colleagues in the UK government should perhaps heed the same advice: The Guardian reported new analysis by climate campaigners Uplift showing that major UK fossil fuel projects have been approved since Cop26, with another 50 in the pipeline between now and 2025. 

The war in Ukraine and soaring prices for energy and food has seen governments responding by increasing fossil fuel production, which could imperil the promises made at Cop26. Indeed, the Institute for Government criticised the government for a “poor” and “incoherent” approach to policy making in relation to net-zero. The think tank’s new report‘Passing the Net Zero Test: How to achieve policy coherence on climate change’,highlights a series of decisions where ministers seem to have undermined their own climate objectives: the Cumbria coal mine, roadbuilding, cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights, and boosting UK oil and gas production. 

The report followed a tweet by Kwasi Kwarteng. The business secretary had been irked by climate campaigners gate-crashing a meeting. The UK will be reliant on oil and gas “for decades to come” the business secretary rant-wrote on Twitter.

Unsurprisingly, inflation was in the news all week. Prime minister Boris Johnson was pressed hard to do more as inflation reached 9% over the past year (the highest in 40 years, reported the BBC). The Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey warned MPs of an “apocalyptic” rise in global food prices.

Year-on-year inflation in the foodservice sector hit 13.6% in March, according to the price index run by CGA and Prestige Purchasing. Bidfood boss Andrew Selley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that foodservice businesses supplying schools, prisons and hospitals are facing “difficult decisions”. Soaring ingredient prices could lead to public sector caterers using cheap alternatives or reducing portion sizes, he warned, unless government funding for free school meals kept pace with the price rises.

The government used the “unprecedented global economic situation” to announce delays to new junk food regulations. After days of rumours and speculation ministers confirmed that they are shelving plans to restrict promotions and advertising of food and drink that is high in fat, salt or sugar (see main news). The move, as Footprint noted recently, smacks of (more) muddled thinking from the government – its own evidence suggests food price promotions don’t actually save people money.

Cans, bans and pans

This was, The Grocer reported, a new approach to policies called ‘canning the banning’. Other industry lobby groups will certainly be using the move – which has been panned by campaign groups and the likes of Henry Dimbleby – to ask for similar dispensations. Expect calls to delay market restrictions on some single-use plastic items to intensify, for example (on that note, look out for Monday’s Plastics Package column).

A target for dairy farmers to conduct a carbon audit by December 2022 has also been extended to June 2023 due to “external pressures”. The aim of the UK Dairy Roadmap, under which the target was set, is to improve the environmental footprint of the entire dairy supply chain. A statement noted that reducing carbon emissions could be “falling down the agenda” for many farmers. However, producers were urged to complete the audits as soon as possible, in the interests of improving their efficiency and resilience. Farming inflation currently stands at 30.6%, according to figures from Andersons, a consultancy, reported by FarmingUK.

Guterres at the UN also warned this week that the global food crisis is being worsened by the war in Ukraine and climate change. Qu Dongyu, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, called for transformation of agrifood systems. “Time is short, and the situation is dire,” he said, outlining the need to scale up emergency assistance, invest more throughout the value chain, prioritise new technology and reduce food waste and loss.

Changing what we eat will help too. Which brings us to news that products made by Impossible Foods are being rolled out at various chicken shops and, later this month, at Greene King’s Hungry Horse pubs (see main news). ‘Chicken’ nuggets and ‘sausage’ patties will arrive first; the company’s famous ‘bleeding’ burgers are still reportedly pending approval from the Food Standards Agency.

Consumption of meat needs to fall from 80kg per person per year to 20kg, according to researchers at the University of Bonn. However, eating meat in small amounts “can be quite sustainable”, they said. "We can't live on grass, but ruminants can," said co-author Martin Parlasca. "Therefore, if grassland cannot be used in any other way, it makes perfect sense to keep livestock on it." From an environmental point of view, there is also no real objection to careful grazing with a limited number of animals, he added.

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