Comparing nutrition carbon footprints of different countries

What are the characteristics of feeding habits in Finland, Japan, Brazil, India, and China and how do the nutrition footprints in the countries compare to each other?

Figure 1

The 1.5-Degree Lifestyles Technical Report elaborates on the average lifestyle carbon footprints by comparing the footprints of different domains in a variety of countries. Nutrition is defined as the intake of all foodstuffs and beverages consumed at home and outside the home, e.g. vegetable and fruit, meat, fish, dairy, cereal, alcohol, and non-alcoholic beverages. (Emissions from cooking at home are included under housing, whereas emissions from the operation of restaurants are included under leisure.)

Finland – The average Finn has a nutrition carbon footprint of 1,750 kg (CO2e per year), of which meat products comprise over one-third (37%) (see outer circle Fig. 1). The highest contributor to this is beef, which, despite its relatively small proportion compared to pork and chicken, has a high carbon intensity contributing 43% to the footprint of meat. Another third of the footprint is caused by dairy products (36%), mostly due to cheese and milk. Beverages produce nearly a tenth (9%) of the footprint due to the carbon intensity of beer and coffee. Fish and egg carbon intensities are relatively high but amounts consumed are low. As a whole, while animal products represent only a third of the physical amounts consumed they have a huge impact (78%) on the carbon footprint, much higher than plant-based foodstuffs. The estimated food loss at households of 2.4% is accounted for in the food amounts consumed.

Japan – The nutrition carbon footprint of the average Japanese is 1,400 kg (CO2e per year). For the Japanese too, meat products are a key contributor at nearly a quarter of this footprint (23%) due to their high carbon intensity (see the difference between inner and outer circles in Fig. 1), especially beef. Over a tenth (13%) of the footprint is caused by dairy products – the carbon intensity of which highly varies (e.g., butter is 13 times higher than milk). Fish cause 7% of the footprint and have a high intensity due to a relatively high share of non-edible parts supplied to households. Cereals represent nearly a fifth of the footprint, and beverages and vegetables have a tenth each of the footprints, but their carbon intensity is lower. The carbon intensity of cereals is higher in Japan because of the higher intensity of rice than other crops. Alcohol is over six times more carbon-intense than non-alcoholic beverages. The intensity of Others is also relatively high due to processed or lightweight products such as oils and spices. The food loss in households is estimated as 3.7%, which is included in food consumption. Also, the food loss in the supply chain is 4.1%.

China, Brazil, and India – In China, meat is heavily consumed, responsible for 44% of an average person’s nutrition carbon footprint, with one-third of this caused by beef. Fish and vegetables each contribute over a tenth, due to the relatively high carbon intensity of fish and consumption of vegetables. Cereals, rice, and wheat combined account for just under a tenth. The average Chinese person’s nutrition carbon footprint is 1,050 kg (CO2e). Meat features nearly as heavily in Brazil’s nutrition footprint (43%), over half of which is due to beef. Cereals represent a fifth, half of this being due to rice consumption.

An average Brazilian has a carbon footprint of 1,040 kg. India has a relatively low nutrition carbon footprint, 500 kg, of which three-fifths is due to dairy and cereals, which is mostly caused by rice consumption. Dairy products are mainly based on milk, which has a relatively high carbon intensity.

In most of the case countries, meat consumption is the largest contributor to a person’s carbon footprint for nutrition, varying across countries – from over 80 kg eaten in Finland to the about 35 kg eaten in Japan, with approximately 45 and 60 kg being eaten in Brazil and China, respectively.

In China and Finland, most of the meat consumed is pork (63%, 43%, respectively) and poultry (22%, 29%). India is the exception, where little meat is consumed (under 5 kg), partly due to the predominance of vegetarianism and the fact that just over half of the meat consumed is poultry.

Dairy products are another significant contributor to Finland’s carbon footprint, approaching meat, due to the large consumption (almost 200 kg per person) of cheese and other dairy products, whereas Indian, Japanese, and Brazilian people consume much less – about 85, 50, and 35 kg, respectively. Dairy consumption is also trending up in many countries.

Other major contributors to the nutrition carbon footprint are fish, cereals, and beverages. Fish is a major contributor in Japan and China at 30 to 35 kg consumed per person. Cereals have relatively high carbon intensity in Japan and Brazil, probably due to rice consumption, which tends to have a higher intensity than wheat and other cereals. Beans are a relatively low-carbon and protein-rich food and generally have low carbon intensity, but their kg consumption is limited in most of the case countries, with over 20 in Japan, 15 in India, and less than 10 in Finland and China-Brazil is the exception, at 70 kg.

Figure 2

As indicated by the dotted rectangles in Figure 2 (above), the nutrition footprints of Finland and Japan need to be greatly reduced: by 47–58% by 2030 and 75–80% by 2050. Yet, the estimated reduction required is below that of other domains as there is less variation in current footprints, implying nutrition is considered a necessity (see Annex D for more details). Further, China, Brazil, and India would also need to significantly reduce nutrition-related footprints by 2050, and the current per-capita footprints in China and Brazil already exceed the 2030 target. Shifting nutrition sources and reducing carbon intensity or physical consumption amounts where possible while satisfying nutritional requirements can contribute to reducing footprints.

For more details and references, refer to the 1.5-Degree Lifestyles Technical Report.

Photo Credit: Nahid V from Göteborg, Sweden

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