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  • World Climate Foundation

Time for action – COP26 signals a new approach to the global food system

Lars Holmquist, Executive Vice President, Sustainability & Communications, Tetra Pak'

My time at COP26 and the World Climate Summit in Glasgow was constructive, inspiring, and hopeful.

It is clear that there is an opportunity for a stronger focus on the food system and its contribution to climate change. The global food systems produce a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. That is why we, as Tetra Pak, decided to place Food System transformation at the very heart of our own presence at COP26 and the World Climate Summit.

We hosted a panel discussion, moderated by Professor Dan Esty, Hillhouse Professor at Yale, to explore how the food processing and packaging sector can contribute towards creating a decarbonised global food system. There were some important points that I took away from the event, and indeed from throughout my time in Glasgow.

Businesses are ready to act, but we now need governments to focus attention on the global food systems

During our session, Professor Johan Rockstrom, who offered a key note address, outlined the importance of a new approach to the food systems in no uncertain terms, when he said, “If we fail on food, we fail on planet.” We are determined to use our position in the food sector to convene and galvanise our partners towards creating the change that is needed.

There is now an appetite and determination from businesses across all sectors to tackle the challenge of decarbonising the global food systems. Indeed, as Ashley Allen, Chief Sustainability Office of Oatly, commented during our conversation, “Every single company, not just the few thousand that have set science-based targets, but the tens of thousands that haven’t yet, has a responsibility in this space.”

However, to make change a reality, we need direction from government. Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Co-Chair of the Club of Rome, made this point forcefully during the food systems panel discussion, when she noted the importance of highlighting what “companies are doing, because they're really on the cusp of innovation, and forcing policymakers to really put in place the levers for change that we need.”

Although governments representing over 60% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are now committed to net-zero emissions goals, only 12% of emissions are addressed by sector-specific policies and regulations. We must do more and do it quickly.

Governments now need to develop and define specific targets around the global food system. The Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement mean that countries are committed to action on agriculture and land-use change, but we can only achieve the mitigation potential of food systems if action is also taken on diets and food loss and waste. This will go a long way to closing the emissions gap.

Partnerships are key

We knew it already, but the food systems panel discussion, and my time at COP26 more generally, reinforced the fact that the world has likely never faced as complex a challenge as climate change. Any solutions require cooperation and partnership, whether at the nation state level, or between organisations across a sector’s value chain.

The conversations I had during my time in Glasgow made me both proud of what Tetra Pak has achieved already, and fuelled my commitment to do more. We have committed to achieving net zero GHG emissions in our own operations by 2030 with the same ambition across the value chain by 2050. We have already achieved a 19% reduction in our value chain emissions between 2010 and 2020, and a 70% reduction across scopes 1 & 2 over the same period. These reductions have been achieved through activities that rely on collaboration and cooperation with our partners. This includes working with one of our aluminium suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint by 74% over the past four years, and increasing the number of facilities that recycle cartons worldwide from 40 to more than 170.

During our World Climate Summit event, Annette Stube, Head of Sustainability of Stora Enso, rightly pointed to the need for companies not just to consider innovation to reduce their own emissions, but to help their partners do the same. She remarked that “it’s not just about how we produce, it is that we put that sustainability and that regenerative aspect into our products so we can help our customers.”

Pledges are no longer enough – the world demands specifics

It is clear that companies and countries making sustainability pledges will now need to respond to a level of scrutiny not seen before. It is no longer enough to make a pledge, it now needs to be accompanied by interim targets, quantitative measurement, and specifics on how a company’s business model will change to meet those targets.

I welcome this. We were the first in our industry to set a science-based target (SBT) in 2017 and, in order to accelerate our own transformation, we have recently revised our SBTs to reduce scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 46% by 2030 from a 2019 benchmark. This revision brings us in line with the latest science, and gives an indication of how determined we are to measure progress and keep pushing further.

Our determination to act

This same determination applies to our work on the food systems. COP26 and the World Climate Summit was just the first step for Tetra Pak in building a coalition of organisations committed to catalysing the radical new approach to the global food systems that is needed.

But this is a monumental task. It will require long-term focus and systems-level thinking to connect with all stakeholders across the food value chain. We know we cannot resolve this challenge in isolation; we want our work at COP26, and the conversations that it initiated, to be the beginning of collective action.

For this to be effective, it needs concrete actions and steps.

Over the coming months we will be working with different stakeholders to define the most impactful pathways where the food processing technologies and packaging solutions industry can contribute to food system transformation and decarbonisation.

Through a consultative process in 2022, we will work with partners, existing coalitions and likeminded companies to develop an industry roadmap, including objectives and means of implementation. To finish, I’d ask any organisation that shares our ambition to transform how we feed the world, to join us. Together we can make the changes that will secure a better future for us all.


To watch a short film of Tetra Pak’s ‘Transforming the food systems’ panel discussion at COP26/World Climate Summit, please click here.

For more detail on Tetra Pak’s thoughts around how we can enable the transformation of food systems through innovative food processing technologies and packaging solutions, click here.


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