Big 10 Food Companies Emitting More Than Nordic Countries Combined

The “Big 10” food and beverage companies are both highly vulnerable to climate change and major contributors to the problem. Together they emit so much greenhouse gas that, if they were a single country, they would be the 25th most polluting in the world – yet Oxfam says they’re not doing nearly enough to tackle it.

The “Big 10” – Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – should be capable of cutting their combined emissions by a further 80 million tons by 2020, says Oxfam. This would be equivalent to taking all of the cars in Los Angeles, Beijing, London and New York off the roads.

Land Grab in Indonesia
Palm oil company PT Adei, a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK), is accused of forcing Indonesian farmers from their land with little compensation and polluting the river. © Oxfam

Oxfam’s “Standing on the Sidelines: Why Food and Beverage Companies Must Do More to Tackle Climate Change” report published on May 20 is part of its “Behind the Brands” campaign looking at the social and environmental policies of the world’s biggest ten food and beverage companies. Previous “Behind the Brands” campaigns have convinced some of the biggest food companies on the planet to adopt stronger policies against land grabs and to improve women’s rights.

The “Big 10” together emit 263.7 million tons of greenhouse gases – more than Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined. Emissions from their operations account for 29.8 million tons. Of their total emissions, about half come from the production of agricultural materials from their supply chains, yet these emissions are not covered by the reduction targets the companies have set. It is with these agricultural emissions that Oxfam finds the companies being particularly negligent.

Climate Change Affects Raw Products Prices

Climate change contributes to storms, floods, droughts and shifting weather patterns. This affects food supplies and is putting pressure on prices, causing more hunger and poverty. Experts predict that by 2050, there will be 50 million more people made hungry because of climate change.

Some of the “Big 10” companies admit that climate change is already beginning to harm them financially. Unilever says it now loses $415 million a year, while General Mills reported losing 62 days of production in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 alone because of extreme weather conditions that are growing worse because of climate change.

Oxfam projects that the price of key products like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and General Mills’ Kix cereal could spike by up to 44% in the next 15 years because of climate change.

Big 10 Food Companies
The Big 10 rated on policies to address agricultural emissions in supply chains. © Oxfam

The “Carbon Sink” Goal

Oxfam says that agriculture and forests drive around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions and that these emissions are growing as demand for food rises. Experts say that if the world is to keep within a “safe” 2°C threshold by 2050, net global emissions from the food sector need to fall to zero and actually become a “carbon sink” by mid-century – working to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Yet emission trends are currently heading in the opposite direction.

“Too many of today’s food and beverage giants are crossing their fingers and hoping that climate change won’t disrupt the food system imagining somebody else will fix it. The ‘Big 10’ companies generate over $1 billion a day and have great power to influence global food chains. The industry needs to do more to work towards ‘zero hunger’ in the world while undergoing a revolution in their production methods,” said Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.