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The Carbon Footprint of the Food Supply Chain

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carbon footprint food supply chain

Which Foods Have the Greatest Environmental Impact?

The quantity of greenhouse gases (GHGs) generated by our food can vary considerably across the global food supply chain.

In fact, the difference between specific food types can vary by orders of magnitude, meaning what we eat could be a significant factor impacting GHG emissions on the environment.

Today’s modified chart from Our World in Data relies on data from the largest meta-analysis of food systems in history. The study, published in Science was led by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek to highlight the carbon footprint across different food types across the world.

The Foods With the Highest Carbon Footprint

Worldwide, there are approximately 13.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) emitted through the food supply chain per year.

Across a database extending through 119 countries and 38,000 commercial farms, the study found that, unsurprisingly, beef and other animal products have an outsize effect on emissions.

For example, one kilogram (kg) of beef results in 60 kg of GHG emissions—nearly 2.5x the closest food type, lamb and mutton. In contrast, the same weight of apples produce less than one kilogram of GHG emissions.

Food TypeGHG Emissions per 1 kg Produced
Beef (beef herd)60 kgCO2e
Lamb & Mutton24 kgCO2e
Cheese21 kgCO2e
Beef (dairy herd)21 kgCO2e
Chocolate19 kgCO2e
Coffee17 kgCO2e
Prawns (farmed)12 kgCO2e
Palm Oil8 kgCO2e
Pig Meat7 kgCO2e
Poultry Meat6 kgCO2e
Olive Oil6 kgCO2e
Fish (farmed)5 kgCO2e
Eggs4.5 kgCO2e
Rice4 kgCO2e
Fish (wild catch)3 kgCO2e
Milk3 kgCO2e
Cane Sugar3 kgCO2e
Groundnuts2.5 kgCO2e
Wheat & Rye1.4 kgCO2e
Tomatoes1.4 kgCO2e
Maize (Corn)1.0 kgCO2e
Cassava1.0 kgCO2e
Soymilk0.9 kgCO2e
Peas0.9 kgCO2e
Bananas0.7 kgCO2e
Root Vegetables0.4 kgCO2e
Apples0.4 kgCO2e
Citrus Fruits0.3 kgCO2e
Nuts0.3 kgCO2e

When it comes to plant-based foods, chocolate is among the highest GHG emitters. One kilogram of chocolate produces 19 kg of GHGs. On average, emissions from plant-based foods are 10 to 50 times lower than animal-based types.

Bottom line, it is clear that the spectrum of emissions differs significantly across each food type.

Food Supply Chain Stages

The food supply chain is complex and nuanced as it moves across each stage of the cycle.

Although the steps behind the supply chain for individual foods can vary considerably, each typically has seven stages:

  1. Land Use Change
  2. Farm
  3. Animal Feed
  4. Processing
  5. Transport
  6. Retail
  7. Packaging

Across all foods, the land use and farm stages of the supply chain account for 80% of GHG emissions. In beef production, for example, there are three key contributing factors to the carbon footprint at these stages: animal feed, land conversion, and methane production from cows. In the U.S., beef production accounts for 40% of total livestock-related land use domestically.

On the other end of the spectrum is transportation. This stage of the supply chain makes up 10% of total GHG emissions on average. When it comes to beef, the proportion of GHGs that transportation emits is even smaller, at just 0.5% of total emissions.

Contrary to popular belief, sourcing food locally may not help GHG emissions in a very significant way, especially in the case of foods with a large carbon footprint.

The Rise of Plant-Based Alternatives

Amid a growing market share of plant-based alternatives in markets around the world, the future of the food supply chain could undergo a significant transition.

For investors, this shift is already evident. Beyond Meat, a leading provider of meat substitutes, was one of the best performing stocks of 2019—gaining 202% after its IPO in May 2019.

As rising awareness about the environment becomes more prevalent, is it possible that growing meat consumption could be a thing of the past?

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Green

Mapped: The Greenest Countries in the World

The world’s growing focus on sustainability is a clear sign of the times. This map ranks the 40 greenest countries in the world.

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Mapped: The Greenest Countries in the World

From widening wealth disparity to the environmental ramifications of economic development—the growing focus on global sustainability is a clear sign of the times.

Research reveals that when a sustainable ethos is applied to policy and business, it typically bodes well for economies and people alike. By providing benchmarks for those decisions, indexes like Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) can be critical to measuring national sustainability efforts.

The above map interprets the EPI ranking of 180 economies across 32 environmental health indicators by narrowing in on the top 40 greenest countries.

Who’s the Greenest of them All?

Despite the decades-long trend of globalization, national environmental policies have proved to be widely divergent. The EPI report confirms that those policies—and their positive results—are highly correlated with national wealth.

This is evidenced in the global EPI distributions, seen below:

OVERALL RANKCOUNTRYSCOREREGIONAL RANK
1Denmark82.51
2Luxembourg82.32
3Switzerland81.53
4United Kingdom81.34
5France805
6Austria79.66
7Finland78.97
8Sweden78.78
9Norway77.79
10Germany77.210
11Netherlands75.311
12Japan75.11
13Australia74.912
14Spain74.313
15Belgium73.314
16Ireland72.815
17Iceland72.316
18Slovenia721
19New Zealand71.317
20Canada7118
21Czech Republic712
22Italy7118
23Malta70.720
24United States of America69.321
25Greece69.13
26Slovakia68.34
27Portugal6722
28South Korea66.52
29Israel65.81
30Estonia65.35
31Cyprus64.86
32Romania64.77
33Hungary63.78
34Croatia63.19
35Lithuania62.910
36Latvia61.611
37Poland60.912
38Seychelles58.21
39Singapore58.13
40Taiwan57.24
41Bulgaria5713
42United Arab Emirates55.62
43North Macedonia55.414
44Chile55.31
45Serbia55.215
46Brunei Darussalam54.85
47Kuwait53.63
48Jordan53.44
49Belarus531
50Colombia52.92
51Mexico52.63
52Costa Rica52.54
53Armenia52.32
54Argentina52.25
55Brazil51.26
56Bahrain515
57Ecuador517
58Russia50.53
59Venezuela50.38
60Ukraine49.54
61Uruguay49.19
62Albania4916
63Antigua and Barbuda48.510
64Cuba48.411
65St. Vincent and Grenadines48.411
66Jamaica48.213
67Iran486
68Malaysia47.96
69Trinidad and Tobago47.514
70Panama47.315
71Tunisia46.77
72Azerbaijan46.55
73Paraguay46.416
74Dominican Republic46.317
75Montenegro46.317
76Gabon45.82
77Barbados45.618
78Bosnia and Herzegovina45.418
79Lebanon45.48
80Thailand45.47
81Suriname45.219
82Mauritius45.13
83Tonga45.18
84Algeria44.89
85Kazakhstan44.76
86Dominica44.620
87Moldova44.47
88Bolivia44.321
89Uzbekistan44.38
90Peru4422
91Saudi Arabia4410
92Turkmenistan43.99
93Bahamas43.523
94Egypt43.311
95El Salvador43.124
96Grenada43.124
97Saint Lucia43.124
98South Africa43.14
99Turkey42.619
100Morocco42.312
101Belize41.927
102Georgia41.310
103Botswana40.45
104Namibia40.26
105Kyrgyzstan39.811
106Iraq39.513
107Bhutan39.31
108Nicaragua39.228
109Sri Lanka392
110Oman38.514
111Philippines38.49
112Burkina Faso38.37
113Malawi38.37
114Tajikistan38.212
115Equatorial Guinea38.19
116Honduras37.829
117Indonesia37.810
118Kiribati37.711
119São Tomé and Príncipe37.610
120China37.312
121Samoa37.312
122Qatar37.115
123Zimbabwe3711
124Central African Republic36.912
125Dem. Rep. Congo36.413
126Guyana35.930
127Maldives35.63
128Uganda35.614
129Timor-Leste35.314
130Laos34.815
131Sudan34.816
132Kenya34.715
133Zambia34.715
134Ethiopia34.417
135Fiji34.416
136Mozambique33.918
137Eswatini33.819
138Rwanda33.819
139Cambodia33.617
140Cameroon33.621
141Viet Nam33.418
142Pakistan33.14
143Micronesia3319
144Cabo Verde32.822
145Nepal32.75
146Papua New Guinea32.420
147Mongolia32.221
148Comoros32.123
149Guatemala31.831
150Tanzania31.124
151Nigeria3125
152Marshall Islands30.822
153Niger30.826
154Republic of Congo30.826
155Senegal30.728
156Eritrea30.429
157Benin3030
158Angola29.731
159Togo29.532
160Mali29.433
161Guinea-Bissau29.134
162Bangladesh296
163Vanuatu28.923
164Djibouti28.135
165Lesotho2836
166Gambia27.937
167Mauritania27.738
168Ghana27.639
169India27.67
170Burundi2740
171Haiti2732
172Chad26.741
173Solomon Islands26.724
174Madagascar26.542
175Guinea26.443
176Côte d'Ivoire25.844
177Sierra Leone25.745
178Afghanistan25.58
179Myanmar25.125
180Liberia22.646

Regional grouping in the report include: Global West, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Former Soviet States, Greater Middle East, Latin America & Caribbean, Southern Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa

Scandinavian countries, which tend to have a high GDP per capita, show strong and consistent results across EPI parameters. Denmark for instance—which ranks first overall—leads the world in slowing its growth in CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, neighbor Sweden leads in landfill and recycling treatment, while wastewater treatment is led by a handful of countries within and beyond Scandinavia including Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Sweden.

In North America, Canada claims top spot in the biodiversity and habitat category, while the U.S. ranks sixth in agricultural diversity globally. In Asia, Singapore leads the world in fishery health and sustainability.

Ultimately, it appears the world’s greenest countries tend to focus on all areas of sustainability, while laggard countries show more uneven performance across categories.

What Does “Green” Mean?

Each high-level performance indicator with the EPI, like “environmental health”, is broken into subsections. Nations are scored on each subsector on a scale up to 100. As a result, multiple countries can rank first in any given category.

By evaluating national sustainability on a scale that is unrelated to other nations, we get a clearer idea of comparative national progress, beyond a basic ranking.

For instance, 30 countries tie for first in marine protection, all with scores of 100. This shows that many economies are prioritizing this area of sustainability.

The EPI categories and subsectors are shown in the diagram below:

Greenest Countries in the World Supplemental EPI Index

Each section is weighted differently, and is reflected as a percentage within the index. For example, Ecosystem Vitality accounts for 60% of the EPI, Climate Change makes up 24% of a country’s score, and CO2 emission reduction is weighted at 13.2%.

The Cost of Being Green

Infrastructure costs are one reason why wealthier nations tend to fare better across sustainability measures. Everything from air pollution reduction and water treatment, to hazardous waste control and mitigation of public health crises are especially expensive—but have a huge potential impact on citizens.

This trend can be seen the scatterplot, which demonstrates the distribution of economies evaluated by the EPI:

Greenest Countries in the World Main Image Supplemental Comparing GDP to EPI Score

For a more detailed look, the table below highlights the GDP per capita of each of the top 40 greenest countries, based on data from the World Bank and Statista:

COUNTRYEPI SCOREGDP Per CapitaRANK
Denmark82.560,1701
Luxembourg82.3114,7052
Switzerland81.581,9943
United Kingdom81.342,3304
France8040,4945
Austria79.650,1386
Finland78.948,7837
Sweden78.751,6158
Norway77.775,4209
Germany77.246,44510
Netherlands75.352,33111
Japan75.140,24712
Australia74.955,06013
Spain74.329,60014
Belgium73.346,42115
Ireland72.878,66116
Iceland72.366,94517
Slovenia7225,94618
New Zealand71.342,08419
Canada7146,19520
Czech Republic7123,49521
Italy7133,22822
Malta70.729,82123
United States of America69.365,29824
Greece69.119,58325
Slovakia68.319,26626
Portugal6723,25227
South Korea66.531,84628
Israel65.843,59229
Estonia65.323,72330
Cyprus64.827,85831
Romania64.712,92032
Hungary63.716,73233
Croatia63.114,93634
Lithuania62.919,60235
Latvia61.617,82936
Poland60.915,69337
Seychelles58.217,44838
Singapore58.165,23339
Taiwan57.225,87340

Despite the strong correlation between GDP per capita and EPI score, developing countries do not have to abandon sustainability efforts. China for instance leads the world in the adoption of electric vehicle technology.

Post-Pandemic Outlook

Although some rankings can seem prosaic, indexes like the EPI provide a helpful benchmark for economies to compare efforts. It also allows governments to iterate and build upon environmental strategies and investments by highlighting what is and isn’t working.

CO2 emissions, for instance, are a major driver of climate change. Although the global economic stall has led to a temporary dip of CO2 emissions in early 2020 (a slower growth rate than the 11% expected rise), global emissions still continue.

However, the EPI shows that investments have impact. High-level sustainability efforts—political commitment, media coverage, regulations—can deliver results, even at the grassroots level.

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Energy

How Much Solar Energy is Consumed Per Capita? (1965-2019)

This visualization highlights the growth in solar energy consumption per capita over 54 years. Which countries are leading the way?

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How Much Solar Energy is Consumed Per Capita?

The long history of solar energy use dates as far back as 4,000 B.C.—when ancient civilizations would use solar architecture to design dwellings that would use more of the sun’s warmth in the winter, while reducing excess heat in the summer.

But despite its long history, we’ve only recently started to rely on solar energy as a renewable power source. This Our World in Data visualization pulls data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy to highlight how solar energy consumption per capita has grown in countries around the world over 54 years.

Solar Success: The Top Consumers Per Capita

Solar energy consumption is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh)—and as of the latest estimates, Australia leads the world in terms of highest solar energy consumption per capita at 1,764 kWh in 2019. A combination of factors help achieve this:

  • Optimal weather conditions
  • High gross domestic product (GDP) per capita
  • Tariffs incentivizing the shift to solar

In fact, government subsidies such as financial assistance with installation and feed-in tariffs help bring down the costs of residential solar systems to a mere AUD$1 (US$0.70) per watt.

RankCountrySolar consumption per capita
(kWh, 2019)
Solar’s share of total
(per capita consumption)
#1🇦🇺 Australia1,7642.50%
#2🇯🇵 Japan1,4693.59%
#3🇩🇪 Germany1,4093.22%
#4🇦🇪 UAE1,0560.77%
#5🇮🇹 Italy9953.40%
#6🇬🇷 Greece9363.08%
#7🇧🇪 Belgium8471.30%
#8🇨🇱 Chile8233.39%
#9🇺🇸 U.S.8151.02%
#10🇪🇸 Spain7972.34%

Source: Our World in Data, BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020
Note that some conversions have been made for primary energy consumption values from Gigajoules (GJ) to kWh.

Coming in second place, Japan has the highest share of solar (3.59%) compared to its total primary energy consumption per capita. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the nation made plans to double its renewable energy use by 2030.

Japan has achieved its present high rates of solar energy use through creative means, from repurposing abandoned golf courses to building floating “solar islands”.

Solar Laggards: The Bottom Consumers Per Capita

On the flip side, several countries that lag behind on solar use are heavily reliant on fossil fuels. These include several members of OPEC—Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela—and former member state Indonesia.

This reliance may also explain why, despite being located in regions that receive the most annual “sunshine hours” in the world, this significant solar potential is yet unrealized.

RankCountrySolar consumption
per capita (kWh, 2019)
Primary energy consumption
per capita (kWh, 2019)
#1🇮🇸 Iceland0No data available
#2🇱🇻 Latvia0No data available
#3🇮🇩 Indonesia<19,140
#4🇺🇿 Uzbekistan<115,029
#5🇭🇰 Hong Kong<146,365
#6🇻🇪 Venezuela121,696
#7🇴🇲 Oman284,535
#8🇹🇲 Turkmenistan367,672
#9🇮🇶 Iraq415,723
#10🇮🇷 Iran541,364

Source: Our World in Data, BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020
Note that some conversions have been made for primary energy consumption values from Gigajoules (GJ) to kWh.

Interestingly, Iceland is on this list for a different reason. Although the country still relies on renewable energy, it gets this from different sources than solar—a significant share comes from hydropower as well as geothermal power.

The Future of Solar

One thing the visualization above makes clear is that solar’s impact on the global energy mix has only just begun. As the costs associated with producing solar power continue to fall, we’re on a steady track to transform solar energy into a more significant means of generating power.

All in all, with the world’s projected energy mix from total renewables set to increase over 300% by 2040, solar energy is on a rising trend upwards.

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