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How the Kigali Amendment can help cut food loss, bringing even more sustainability benefits

In a world where hundreds of millions of people go hungry every year, and agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity loss and climate change, food loss and waste is hard to stomach.

Previous estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization found that around one-third of food produced each year is lost or wasted. This translates to almost a trillion dollars in financial losses. Just as bad, the greenhouse gas emissions from producing and transporting this food still go into the atmosphere – essentially warming the planet for no return. Then there is the land and water used to grow food that is never eaten. 

There is no doubt that dramatically reducing food waste and loss would make a massive contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, the to-be-agreed post-2020 framework on biodiversity and many other international agreements that function together as the global roadmap to a better future for humanity.

While food waste – when consumers and retailers throw out unused food – can be reduced by simple behavioural change, the issue of food loss is more complicated to address. Around 15 per cent of perishable food produced worldwide is currently refrigerated. About 14 per cent of food is lost before it even gets to retailers, and a large part of this is because of a lack of access to cold-chain logistics – essentially refrigeration for local storage and transport over long distances. This is where the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol can make a real difference.

Current cold chain systems tend to use high global warming potential refrigerants and electricity derived from fossil fuels. The food supply cold chain accounts for an estimated 20 per cent of global use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), refrigerants that have a more powerful impact on climate change than carbon dioxide. This means that simply expanding cold chain as it stands is not an option.

However, the Kigali Amendment, now ratified by over 100 nations, is a global commitment to phase down HFCs. Not only that, but redesigning cooling equipment to take new refrigerants offers the chance to dramatically increase their energy efficiency. This means that expanding cold chain can be done with less climate impact.  

It is considered such an important opportunity that parties to the Montreal Protocol were last year invited to sign the Rome Declaration on the Contribution of the Montreal Protocol to Food Loss Reduction through Sustainable Cold Chain Management. This declaration called for stronger cooperation between governments, the Montreal Protocol, the United Nations and public and private initiatives to develop a sustainable cold chain.

The commitments under the Kigali Amendment can help mobilize developing and developed countries to work together to use new, sustainable cold chain systems that are high in efficiency, safe, and use low or zero-global warming potential refrigerants and renewable energy sources. By clearly establishing the connection between food loss and climate change, the Montreal Protocol community can help countries gain access to United Nations climate funding for the development of cold chains. Opportunities for investment include facilities that allow perishable food to be stored after harvest, refrigeration to maintain proper temperature and humidity during transport, and real-time temperature monitoring and tracking devices to help safeguard the quality of perishable food as it moves along the cold chain. 

The Kigali Amendment is already predicted to avoid 0.4 degrees C of global warming this decade. By making the most of the opportunity to expand cold chains in a sustainable manner, it could do even more by helping to reduce food loss and all of its associated environmental impacts.