Climate change updates 2006-2009

Sustain takes a keen interest in the rapidly accumulating evidence about the contribution of food and farming to climate change. These pages record activity on this issue in the period 2006 to 2009, when we were developing policy and alliance work on climate change. This has now been integrated into our various projects, campaigns and policy work, and you can find out more about those activities throughout the Sustain website.

In the period 2006 to 2009, Sustain attended, contributed to or instigated many climate change events, meetings and policy processes. The clear pattern emerging was that several very significant programmes of work were failing to take into due consideration the significant part that the food system has to play both in creating greenhouse gas emissions, and in offering lower greenhouse gas alternatives. Some highlights from this period were that Sustain:

  • Attended the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific evidence conference at the Royal Society, to hear from scientists participating in this major programme of work to gather and assess the effects of climate change. Plant life - clearly a very important factor in agriculture and ecosystems - was about to be integrated into climate modelling
  • Arranged several masterclass briefings on food and climate change with Tara Garnett from the Food Climate Research Network
  • Contributed to the Carbon Trust’s launch of the new carbon labelling scheme for consumer products
  • Attended the launch of the Mayor’s Climate Change Action Plan for London, noted the lack of mention of food and agriculture, and took steps to address this (see below)
  • Participated in producing a report, Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty, organised by Oxfam and the New Economics Foundation.
  • Held an informal meeting in the autumn, on zero GHG farming, which has helped to shape some work by others, particularly some new research being commissioned by WWF-UK, in association with the Food Climate Research Network.
  • Met with Friends of the Earth to discuss their important new campaign for sustainable feed for livestock. FoE argues that "Large-scale factory farming of meat and dairy is obliterating rainforests and must be tackled by Government investment in building a healthy British farming sector", see:
  • Participated in the advisory group of an initiative being led by the National Trust and B&Q to encourage people to buy and grow more seasonal, UK fruit and veg, which went on to become the Eat Seasonably campaign.
  • Worked with Compassion in World Farming and the Soil Association to develop a campaign to reduce the risk to human health from antibiotic resistance. This went on to become the Save Our Antibiotics Alliance
  • Chaired several Green New Deal meetings, and continued to support work among senior campaigners to develop a common message

Radical change in the food system

A number of Sustain Council members and staff have recently engaged in a series of events where the urgency of the need for radical changes in the food and farming system has been, to an extent, acknowledged, but proposals for how this should be brought about have been lacking. Some events have not even been as promising as this and have, instead, made proposals for change that – at best – are too small in scale and piecemeal to lead to significant improvement or even, arguably, have a negative effect.

A recent report by WWF, Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environment Movement at a Crossroad  ( argues that, while promoting small and painless steps by marketing ‘green consumption’ might lead to some small changes, there is little evidence that they lead people to make the more significant changes – like consuming less – that are actually needed.  Worse, it argues that this approach deflects campaign efforts away from tackling the fundamental problems inherent in consumerism.

Party conference fringe meetings

Sustain was approached by the Climate Clinic coalition of campaign groups to become involved with their programmes of fringe meetings at party conferences. Sustain decided to participate in the Climate Clinic in 2008 as a trial. We worked with Friends of the Earth and the New Economics Foundation to organise events entitled: “Food prices: how high will they go?” The meetings explored a range of issues that lead to rising food prices, including climate change, biofuels, consumption patterns and farming practices and will discuss how the current solutions being proposed would affect the environment, social justice and the economy. 

Senior government and shadow ministers participated, including Roger Williams MP, Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs; Hillary Benn MP, Secretary of State, Defra; and Peter Ainsworth MP, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Sustain's coordinator Jeanette Longfield chaired two meetings this year to discuss the New Economics Foundation (NEF) report (published on 21 July) called A Green New Deal Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices. The impressive range of senior campaigners present agreed to collaborate on a common message that could underpin the work of our respective organisations, emphasising how it helps to tackle the crises in the world’s climate, oil supplies and financial markets.

Climate change and social justice

Sustain also participated in an initiative hosted by NEF and Oxfam to develop policies that simultaneously tackle social injustice and climate change (rather than leave the policy field clear for those who claim these objectives are incompatible). The first meeting took place in May, and Jeanette subsequently provided an article on food that, along with articles by others on, for example, home insulation, may contribute to a publication. Another meeting took place in July.

London's Climate Change Action Plan

Following Sustain policy director Kath Dalmeny’s earlier work with the Greater London Authority (GLA) climate change team, the GLA commissioned a report in 2008 on the greenhouse gas emissions associated with London’s food system. Kath attended several meetings to contribute to development of the tender document and the scope of the report and also provided a written response to flesh out some of the details, particularly the policy implications. The resulting report, undertaken by Brook Lyndhurst consultancy, confirmed that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with London’s food system are very considerable and the GLA will be reviewing its policy options on how to tackle these over the coming months.

The tender published by the Greater London Authority (GLA) climate change team set out to assess how food can be included in London’s climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, initially by an assessment of ‘London’s Food Sector’s Carbon Footprint’.  This set out to explore the greenhouse gas ‘hotspots’ in London’s food system, and where there is scope for the GLA to intervene to ‘cool’ them, including via links with the Mayoral Food Strategy Implementation Plan.  Issues included transport, waste, energy use, and the impact of diverse diets, and covered sectors such as public procurement, the hospitality industry, small businesses and consumers (London residents and visitors). It also considered the effects of London's forthcoming hosting of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In 2007, Sustain's London Food Link project had submitted a paper to the Mayor's Greater London Authority team, summarising the evidence for the links between the food system and climate change, and possible policies that the Mayor could consider as part of London's forthcoming review of its Climate Change Action Plan (the first draft having failed to mention food). Sustain coordinator Jeanette Longfield and London Food Link project officer Zeenat Anjari met with London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi to discuss food’s absence from the capital’s climate change action plan. A copy of Sustain's paper 'Food and London's Climate Change Action Plan' can be downloaded below.
 Download 250Kb pdf

Sustainable Food Guidelines

Sustain's Sustainable Food Guidelines, with several sections relevant to mitigating climate change through action on food, have been launched on a new section of the Sustain website – with business and consumer versions and a summary for children. A consumer-oriented version of Sustain's Sustainable Food Guidelines is linked to from There is also a link to Sustain's home page and guidelines from the BBC's explanation of issues around sustainable food:

Meat, dairy and climate change

There is a growing body of evidence, and increasing public attention, on the significant contribution of intensive meat and dairy production to climate change. Jeanette has put this issue on the Food Standards Agency’s agenda, as part of their consultation on reducing fat and saturated fat in the food chain. The FSA is planning to take a similar approach with fat, as with their programme with reducing salt so this is potentially far-reaching. Friends of the Earth has published a very useful briefing paper on food and climate change.  Download 160Kb pdf

Climate-friendly food guidance

During 2007, Sustain staff reviewed how to integrate climate change considerations into our work.  We started to draft a general Sustain position paper on food and climate change, from which we aimed to develop a number of specific materials. An initial list of seven key things that people can do to eat a climate-friendly diet was developed (turned into a photocopiable leaflet for local events), with the principles:

  • Eat more plants;
  • Eat less meat;
  • Eat in season;
  • Don’t waste food;
  • Buy local and fair-trade;
  • Leave the car;
  • Support good companies that tell you about their environmental performance and promise to improve.

Sustainable catering policies

In 2007, Sustain began a review of its own catering policy, and also how this could be communicated in a more user-friendly manner, for adoption by other organisations. We are keen to ensure that the new focus on carbon reduction - whilst crucial and understandable - does not result in inadvertent sustainablity problems through lack of due attention to sustainable development. We will use our sustainable food guidelines to help people understand how a low-carbon food system can be achieved by straightforward steps, without compromising on food safety, protection of precious resources such as fish stocks, animal welfare and economic development for poor countries.

Sustain also responded to a British Standards Institute consultation document on sustainable event management standards (see also our separate web page on food labelling, which includes a section on carbon labelling).
 Download 150Kb pdf

Sustain policy on greener travel

On a separate but related issue, Sustain participated in a Food Climate Research Network consultation on experiences of video-conferencing to reduce carbon emissions from travel. Sustain drew up a Greener Travel Policy for Sustain in 2007. The policy was approved by Council and adopted by Sustain in January 2007. Following introduction of Sustain's greener travel policy, Sustain's policy director Kath Dalmeny gave presentations during 2008 in Tokyo, Canada and California without the need to travel.

Tackling greenhouse gas emission 'hotspots'

Sustain's deputy coordinator Kath Dalmeny attended a planning meeting with Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network and Steve Reeson of the Food and Drink Federation. They discussed how to bring together senior industry representatives to ‘take stock’ and set priorities for policy and practice in tackling greenhouse gas hotspots in the UK food system.

Kath continued to give presentations at and attend a wide range of high level meetings on this issue, including with the Food Ethics Council, on what key messages civil society should send to supermarkets about tackling airfreight of food. She also attended the meeting, hosted at the Sustainable Development Commission, that she had helped to plan with the Food Climate Research Network and the Food and Drink Federation. The senior industry representatives present emphasised the need for financial and other incentives to encourage change, and for stronger leadership from government. 

Information about  'airfreight of food' can be found on a separate page.

Representatives from the New Zealand Defence Society met Kath in November to discuss their concerns about sustainable food standards being developed in the UK possibly excluding New Zealand produce – even if it is grown to high environmental standards. The Society was planning a conference later in the year. Kath and Sustain's coordinator Jeanette Longfield also participated in an event jointly hosted by Defra and the Italian Embassy, exploring themes relating to sustainable food, carbon labelling, and sustainable agriculture. They promoted Sustain’s work on public procurement and sustainable food labelling and made several useful contacts.

Climate change and the media

January 2007 saw an upsurge in media interest, especially on food and climate change. We have helped many media enquirers, including most of the national broadsheets, and the New Statesman, and Kath appeared on Channel 4 News. This was in response to David Cameron and David Miliband’s speeches on “food patriotism” and sustainable farming respectively, and the implications for trade with poor countries. It was impressive to see both former Sustain Chair, Tim Lang, and Sustain’s deputy coordinator Kath Dalmeny appearing on the same prime-time newscast - showing how far Sustain has come in placing its members and its issues at the heart of public debate.

This high-profile coverage has led to approaches from several conference organisers and university departments for speakers and additional information, and from Sainsbury’s – for Kath and Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network (for which Kath has acted as a facilitator) to brief buyers on climate change and what they could do to address concerns. Kath will also be giving a presentation on how marketing could help to increase demand for sustainable food, at the forthcoming Sustainable Food Lab conference in London in February.


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Climate change

Sustain has taken a keen interest in the rapidly accumulating evidence about the effect of food and farming on climate change, as scientific evidence emerges that our food system is a very significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Our food and climate change pages record our activities on this critical issue.

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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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