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Trimming food-related greenhouse gas emissions in cities

May 8, 2018

Credit Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

A lot of cities have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of President Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

That could mean things like cleaner busses – or energy efficiency. But a sizable chunk of our carbon footprint can be traced to how we get and use our food.

Eugene Mohareb looked into the opportunity cities have to rethink their food systems, in a study in Environmental Science & Technology. He’s a lecturer in sustainable urban systems at the University of Reading in the UK.

“There are a lot of possibilities all the way through the food system, starting with production, of course. But ultimately, what we wanted to show in our research is the first place we need to think when we’re looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the food system is cities,” he says.

Mohareb says diet choices (such as eating less red meat) and reducing food waste are two big ways people in cities can cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“What we found was that around one-third of all emissions can be attributed directly to the production side, so, on the farm,” he says. “But the remaining two-thirds can be attributed to activities that are generally occurring within urban areas.”

He says one thing that surprised them in their research was that increasing urban agriculture on vacant land was not likely to cut emissions by much. He says if you took half of all the vacant land in cities, and grew produce on it, it would reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by just one percent.

“When you consider that [that] produce tends to be a very small fraction of the total food system’s greenhouse gas emissions, there’s really not a lot of gains to be realized by shifting agriculture from centralized large-scale production to more desegregated smaller scale production,” he says.

You can listen to our interview with Eugene Mohareb above.