Politics of Poverty

Obama Catching Up to Oxfam’s Behind the Brands

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President Barack Obama is pushing food companies and retailers to encourage farmers to cut their emissions in an effort to stem climate change.

President Barack Obama is pushing food companies and retailers to encourage farmers to cut their emissions in an effort to stem climate change.  A welcome prod by the administration, since Oxfam first called on the world’s top 10 food and beverage companies to reduce their agricultural supply chains over a year ago in our report Standing on the Sidelines: Why food and beverage companies must do more to tackle climate change  and as part of our Behind the Brands campaign.  As a result of that report, General Mills and Kellogg committed to reducing their agricultural emissions and setting science- based targets that were in line with preventing a 2 degree temperature rise. General Mills is due to have its target set and published in August and Kellogg’s in December.

According to the IPCC, agricultural and deforestation (largely driven by expansion of agricultural land) are responsible for around 25 percent of global emissions.  And while some companies have been focused on climate change through life-cycle emissions reductions, it’s not always clear how much these targets extend to agricultural emissions that Oxfam was seeking to target. Coca-Cola is a case in point– which is why it is so encouraging to see Coca-Cola pledge to engage farmers representing roughly 50% of the company’s global corn supply to use a data-driven tool that will quantify greenhouse gas emissions.

And while mitigations targets are vital to curbing climate change, the food sector must also look to shore up resilience in their supply chains as well since, “[f]armers and ranchers face devastating impacts—from severe floods to extreme heat and drought to increased challenges due to wildfires, disease and pests.” This is true both in the United States but around the world as well where many of the raw commodities for food products are being grown, just look at the recent droughts in California, Brazil and Kenya to name just a few.  Building resiliency in these supply chains means taking a hard look at the business model that food companies have relied on. Right now, these food companies and retailers are benefiting from the profits while taking very little risk when it comes to climate change. Farmers, on the other hand, and small scale ones in particular, bear nearly all the risk when it comes to climate impacts and take home the least amount of value when it comes to the value chain. If farmers are going to remain in the business of growing our food this will have to change and hopefully it won’t be another year before President Obama recognizes that as well.

Finally, the food sector can’t solve climate change on its own but it must be more vocal. Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman has been an incredible champion in this regard but he is often alone at the podium. The time has come for the sector to stand shoulder to shoulder, and mitigate the emissions in their supply chains, increase their efforts to build resilience for farmers and firmly and loudly call on governments to strike a strong deal on mitigation and resilience at COP21 in Paris later this year.

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