Oxfam: Despite Zero Deforestation Pledges, Big Food Companies Remain Weak on Climate Commitments

A new report from Oxfam argues that, despite several high profile pledges to phase deforestation out of their supply chains, big food companies are not doing enough to curb their shockingly high annual amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Read more below to find out how the “Big 10” can reduce their emissions and use their influence to call for climate action.

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Oxfam notes that the combined emissions from the Big 10 are greater than those from Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway) and would rank as “the 25th most polluting country in the world.” 

Despite several high profile pledges to phase deforestation out of their supply chains, big food and drink companies still aren’t doing enough to curb their annual emissions of 264 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, argues a new report published by Oxfam. 

The report, titled Standing on the Sidelines, says that while the companies are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change — including drought and reduced agricultural yields — the “Big 10” companies “are not doing nearly enough to cut their own carbon footprint.” 

“They are failing to use their experience, leadership, and power to transform their own industry and push for the level of climate action the world needs,” the report states. “With a few notable exceptions, the Big 10 are being silent accomplices to this unfolding crisis. It is a serious charge because these companies should be fully aware of the impact that climate change is having on the planet’s food system, given their dominance and reach into it.” 

Land use and agriculture is estimated to account for more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Deforestation and forest degradation represents the largest share of those emissions.

Among the ten companies — Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever — Oxfam calls out Kellogg and General Mills as “clear laggards” among the Big 10 for failing to disclose agricultural emissions and set targets to reduce emissions. 

“The Big 10 must set new targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions throughout their supply chains. But they cannot tackle climate risk by acting alone,” says Oxfam. “They have a duty to step off the sidelines and use their influence to call for urgent climate action from other industries and governments.” 

Most of the Big 10 have recently established zero deforestation commitments for sourcing key commodities — notably palm oil. But Oxfam says these pledges often don’t extend across all the ingredients they source. 

“But only very few of the companies have set concrete plans to implement and monitor these policies or to extend them to other key commodities that are driving deforestation, like soy, sugarcane and maize. Without these plans, the encouraging commitments that have been made may prove to be little more than warm words and paper promises, with little scope for local communities and others in civil society to hold them to account,” states the report. “And having made such commitments on palm oil, there is now no excuse for not replicating them across all commodities that have an impact on forests and the people whose livelihoods depend on them.” 

CITATION: Oxfam. Standing on the Sidelines. May 2014.