fossil fuel food

The Indian agriculture sector is a major consumer of diesel, with about 13% of the total consumption accounted for by it.

Food systems account for at least 15% of all fossil fuel burned globally: Report

Oil companies are manoeuvring to lock in food’s dependence on fossil fuel-based pesticides, fertilisers, and plastic packaging, the report says

A new analysis found that food production, transport, and storage account for at least 15% of fossil fuels used annually. This is roughly about 4.6 Gigatonnes CO2-equivalent, at least as many emissions as all EU countries and Russia combined, found the analysis by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and Dalberg Advisors.

Researchers estimated the global use of fossil fuels across the entire food supply chain—from farm to plate. The report found that even if all governments delivered on their 2030 climate pledges, fossil fuel use in our food system would still blow the 1.5°C carbon budget by 2037.

Talking of India, the report collected data regarding fossil fuel use in agriculture through a press release by the Ministry of Petroleum, which stated that the agriculture sector is a major consumer of diesel, with about 13% of the total consumption accounted for by it. While it only took diesel into account, it gave a fair estimate of fossil fuel consumption, as most of India’s farmers still rely on diesel as their primary source of fuel. The report also noted that this percentage likely does not take into account fuel consumed at the input production stage. 

Growing push for fossil-fuel based fertilisers and pesticides

As the use of fossil fuels for transport and power declines with the uptake of renewable energy, the report also revealed how the fossil fuel industry is investing heavily in petrochemicals to make plastics, pesticides, and fertilisers in order to lock-in the dependence of food systems on high-carbon energy. 

Investments in petrochemicals worth $164 billion were projected for 2016-2023 in the US alone. Food-related plastics and fertilisers together represent approximately 40% of petrochemical products.

Alex Cheval, associate partner of Dalberg Advisors, said, “Current trends, such as the growing consumption of processed foods, will only entrench industrialized food systems’ dependence on fossil fuels. But there are steps we can take now to reduce this reliance, as well as a clear opportunity to transform food systems for the good of society and the environment.”

Ways to wean industrial food systems off fossil fuels

Patty Fong, programme director at the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, said, “Industrial food systems have a fossil fuel problem. To prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, we need to urgently wean our food systems—alongside other economic sectors—off fossil fuels. Shifting away from fossil fuel dependency towards renewable energy and regenerative and agroecological farming would not only protect our planet, but make food more affordable, enhance food security, create jobs, improve health, and help tackle hunger.”

The report recommended using renewables-based technologies for cooling, heating, and drying agricultural products can potentially bring about multiple co-benefits with few resources in a short timeframe. By shifting to more minimally processed plant-rich diets, particularly where meat and saturated-fat consumption is high or growing at levels that risk human and/or planetary health, there is potential to reduce the energy intensity of our food systems and diet-related GHG emissions by 49% while generating substantial health co-benefits, the report added.

COP28 host, oil-producing UAE, says it will make food a key priority, but this must not be used to distract from the need to phase out fossil fuels. Ahead of COP28, the report called on policymakers and donors to phase out the use of fossil-fuel based agrochemicals; shift to renewable energy for food processing; reassess subsidies to biogas and biofuel producers; address corporate consolidation among the food industry and petrochemical and plastics companies; and invest in sustainable farming practices such as agroecology and regenerative agriculture. 

The report also called for greater collaboration between policymakers, investors, funders, civil society, and researchers on food and energy issues. The report urged these groups to acknowledge the interdependence and act on food and energy in tandem.

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