Keith Nunes

From the perspective of the food industry and the business community generally, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from The Paris Agreement on climate change is a significant disappointment, undercutting efforts by U.S.-based companies to establish their businesses as good stewards of the environment and leaders in the development of effective strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the setback from the Trump administration is unfortunate, it does not mean food industry leaders should alter ongoing efforts.

For food and agriculture, the challenges presented by climate change are particularly acute. Climate change scenarios run through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Integrated Global System Modeling framework, which accounts for key sources of uncertainty and incorporates five climate indices, including accumulated frost days, dry days, growing season length, plant heat stress and start of field operations, show the potential effects of climate change on agriculture in the United States by 2100.

Under a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the model projects the United States will experience fewer frosts, a longer growing season, more heat stress and an earlier start of field operations by the end of the century. When greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies — those aimed at capping the rise in global mean surface temperature between pre-industrial times and 2100 at 2 degrees Celsius, the other targeting a 2.5 degrees Celsius cap — were applied, projected changes in four out of the five indices were reduced by half. This modeling suggests greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts may blunt the effects of climate change — both adverse ones, such as increased heat stress, and beneficial ones, such as a longer growing season, according to the MIT researchers.

Climate change
For food and agriculture, the challenges presented by climate change are particularly acute.

Within the food and beverage supply chain, a focus on better waste management practices in animal agriculture or committing to reducing deforestation are both efforts that may mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Shortly after President Donald Trump announced the United States would be withdrawing from The Paris Agreement, numerous industry leaders stepped forward to express their companies’ commitments to addressing climate change. Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and chief executive officer of Mondelez International, reaffirmed her company’s commitment to continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To date, Mondelez International has reduced CO2 emissions from its plants by 7 per cent since 2013 and is on track to achieve its 2020 goal: a 15 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions.

David MacLennan, chairman and c.e.o. of Cargill, made a similar statement noting, “… We have no intention of backing away from our efforts to address climate change in the food and agriculture supply chains around the world, and in fact this will inspire us to work even harder. Caring about sustainability of the planet is not only the right thing to do for people and the environment, it is also good business.”

One hopes these high-profile expressions of support to continue focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be the norm rather than the exception throughout food and beverage. Climate change affects all industries, but agriculture, food and beverage stand as some of the most vulnerable, making it imperative that industry commitment to addressing climate change continue and expand.