Food accounts for 26% of our total consumer emissions. Yet, in 2021, the Climate Gap report found that emissions from food are increasing, pushing us in the wrong direction when it comes to climate breakdown.
If we are to reverse this trend, the report highlights three key actions that all consumers must take.
- Reduce meat consumption by 20%
- Reduce dairy consumption by 20%
- Reduce food waste
In this page, we explore these actions: why they are necessary, how far we are from them, and the changes that businesses and governments can make to ensure we achieve these goals. We call on consumers to not only reduce their own emissions in the areas we have identified, but to also consider getting engaged with political campaigns trying to persuade the government and companies to take some of the actions identified too.
What is the Climate Gap report?
Ethical Consumer's first Climate Gap report was published in October 2021, to track progress towards sustainable consumer lifestyles in the UK. The report helps identify how consumers, governments and companies can work together to help fix the climate crisis.
Called 'Closing the Climate Gap', the report's aim is to track the gap between our current combined consumption emissions and where they need to be by 2030. A second key aim of the project is to produce a simplified list of key actions for consumers, companies and governments.
The report has four sections on the areas where our lifestyle climate impacts are the biggest: food, housing, transport and consumer goods, covering 75% of combined total consumer emissions. It compares where consumer behaviour is in these areas against 2030 targets from reports issued by the UK Government's own Climate Change Committee (CCC). Read more about the Climate Change Committee's targets on our campaign page.
Food and the climate gap
The table below summarises what we think are the three most important opportunities for decarbonisation in the food impact area: meat, dairy and food waste. It also shows that, for the one area where we have year-on-year data, it appears that impacts increased rather than reduced.
Estimates of emissions from our food differ wildly:
- DEFRA estimates food and drink consumed in the UK at about 13% of our emissions but says that this excludes land use change like deforestation. 
- WRAP estimates it to be 21%. 
- A 2010 assessment by Cranfield University put it at 30% with land use change.
There are two big reasons for the disagreement. Firstly, emissions differ wildly depending on how you produce the food. Secondly, nobody is sure how to count the emissions of land use, partly because it depends on what the land would have been if you hadn’t farmed it.
When you are aiming for deep decarbonisation then land opportunity costs loom larger, because you have to use every resource to its maximum potential. And land can absorb carbon through restoration of ecosystems, or through biomass with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Taking this into account can double the effective emissions of food. 
Climate impact of meat and dairy
By far the biggest way that consumers can reduce the greenhouse gas and land impacts of their food is reducing their consumption of products from ruminant animals (cows, sheep and goats), due to their methane impact and the land impact of grazing.
Below is one estimate of UK diets, which includes an estimate of emissions from actual land use change, although not the full opportunity costs of land use. 
||Tonnes CO2e per year
|High meat eaters
|Medium meat eaters
|Low meat eaters
The CCC’s Balanced Scenario includes a 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030 and a further 15% meat reduction by 2050.