Addressing Berkeley's Food Emissions for Paris Agreement

- By Nilang Gor, Founder of Cultivate Empathy for All

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According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Survey, climate change is the top global issue [8]. Climate change impacts our healthcare, sustainability of natural resources, food security, poverty, social equality and economy. But in 2017, Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement saying, "The Paris accord will undermine our economy" [1]. Soon after, more than 400 U.S. Mayors stood against this decision and declared to uphold the Paris Agreement as an effort to keep the average global surface temperature below 2 degrees Celcius [2]. Many of these Cities, including Berkeley, are aiming to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by developing local Climate Action Plans (CAP). These local CAPs could play an important role in meeting the Paris Agreement because about 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas and their consumption pattern can either protect or destroy the environment [3].

However, cities like Berkeley are not looking at emissions from the community’s consumption of goods, called Consumption-based GHG inventory [4]. Berkeley's current CAP mainly looks at Production-based GHG inventory [4]. This measure considers emissions from consumer goods only produced within the city limit [4]. Production-based GHG inventory ignores import-export trading and emissions from the entire product life cycle. For an example, 1 liter of beer generates 628 (100%) grams of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from manufacturing (68%), transportation (6%) and retail (27%) [9]. But the Production-based GHG inventory won’t account for these emissions if the beer was produced outside Berkeley. If the beer was produced within the City limits, Production-based GHG inventory will only include emissions from manufacturing (68%). As a result, Production-based GHG inventory considerably underestimates community-wide emissions [4]. This is the reason Berkeley’s food consumption emissions are not recognized in the CAP, even though the agriculture sector is globally one of the major GHG contributors [10].

Figure 1: Berkeley's Consumption-based GHG inventory [5].
CoolClimate Network has developed Berkeley's Consumption-based GHG inventory (Fig:1) and reports that the City's food sector emits more than 7 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2E) per household [5]. The majority of Berkeley's food sector emissions come from animal products like meat and dairy consumption [5]. Last year, Berkeley became the first City to ban natural gas in new building construction [6]. But the City's emissions from just meat consumption exceeds natural gas emissions [5].

The obvious question one might ask: Is it really important to address the emissions from animal products like meat and dairy to meet the Paris Agreement? According to the World Resource Institute (WRI), the global emissions need to be limited to 21 Gigatons (Gt) of CO2E/year in order to keep the average global surface temperature below 2 degrees Celcius [7]. If agriculture emissions go unaddressed, this sector alone is expected to generate 70% (15Gt Co2e/year) of the allowable GHG emissions by 2050, jeopardizing the Paris Agreement [7].

Figure 2: Diet comparison in reducing agriculture GHG emissions and land use [7].
The WRI reports (Fig:2) that by replacing 49% of the average U.S. diet with plant-based foods, more than 40% of agriculture emissions can be reduced [7]. The City of Berkeley has already started moving in this direction through adopting Green Monday and Good Food Purchasing Programs [12]. But these programs are not being fully implemented due to the lack of advisory body. As a result, the implementation as well as expansion of these efforts are needed in order to move towards reducing more than 40% of U.S. agriculture emissions. A new program called Vision 2025 needs to be adopted to direct City's food budget for replacing 50% of animal products with plant-based food along with forming an advisory body to oversee the implementation of the programs, identify gaps and propose new sustainable food policies. The advisory body would consist of various stakeholders including local organizations, activists, business owners and City staff. The community's close collaborative approach has always proven to be effective and will be vital in order to build a better future for all of Berkeley.  

Nilang Gor
Nilang Gor, is a Molecular Biologist and the founder of Cultivate Empathy for All. Nilang is global citizen and active member of the community with his constant participation through activism/volunteering for homelessness, animal rights and environment. Nilang believes our ecosystem is built on the principle on interdependence and exponential growth in globalization is making our well-being more interdependent than ever before. As a result, he believes cultivating empathy for all is the key factor in creating systemic harmony on our planet earth.

(1) Paris Agreement on climate change: US withdraws as Trump calls it 'unfair'.
(2) Paris Climate Agreement.
(3) Americans say there’s not much appeal to big-city living.
(4) Office of the City Manager - Climate Action Plan Update
(5) Consumption-Based Greenhouse Gas Inventories.
(6) Berkeley became first US city to ban natural gas. Here's what that may mean for the future.
(8) These Are the World's 10 Most Serious Problems, According to Millennials.
(9) Consumer-oriented Life Cycle Assessment of Food, Goods and Services.
(10) The Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD).
(11) Emissions impossible.
(12) Green Mondays.