Fairmiles speaks at world’s biggest fresh produce show

Fairmiles was invited to speak at Fruit Logistica in Berlin on February 8th 2024. Simon Derrick of Blue Skies was joined by Morag Webb from COLEAD and James MacGregor to present their case and answer questions during a panel discussion hosted by Fruitnet.

Below is the full transcript from the opening presentation:

“Global warming is not just a prediction, it is actually happening”. All around us we see evidence of this, extreme weather setting new records every year and rising temperatures that are exceeding the worst case scenarios. And we know that we cannot just sit back and let someone else solve the problem. We all have a responsibility to act, and we must do so now. Simply put, we must all strive to reduce our emissions as far as possible in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which will inevitably affect every single one of us in this room and our future generations.

And because of this, we see that there is now, rightly so, a big drive to achieve Net Zero. Many businesses here at Fruit Logistica, including retailers, growers, manufacturers, distributors and logistics companies, have set Science Based Net Zero targets and are developing plans to achieve this. But, as we seek to accelerate our journeys to Net Zero, we need to be cautious of unintended consequences. Trying to do the right thing is rarely easy, and we often see examples of when what might seem to be the eco choice has negative impacts elsewhere.

For example, the drive to reduce plastic can increase demand for paper and therefore heighten risks of deforestation. Similarly, the move to biodegradable or compostable materials can contaminate recycling streams, and we have recently seen reports of how LNG gas, often seen as a cleaner fuel for shipping, can potentially cause more damage to our climate from methane emissions.

And then of course there is airfreight. We often hear that that flying food can create around 50 times more carbon emissions than shipping. We see these figures quoted so often these days, but how far is this actually representative of the reality? And is it really that that simple? If we add a bit more context we see that transport of food is only 1.56% of total global emissions, and of this just 0.16% is from airfreight. And then if we look at where a lot of airfreighted fresh produce is coming from – Africa – we can see that the whole continent contributes only 3% of global emissions. And then if we look at the social and economic impact, we see from research recently conducted by the University of Exeter, that airfreight supports at least 5 million livelihood’s in Africa, enabling inward investment, inclusive economic development and providing a vital way out of poverty for vulnerable communities.

And so if we take all this into account, does the statement that flying food is 50 times worse than shipping really tell the full story? And is it therefore morally right to stop airfreighting fresh produce?

Past campaigns have suggested it is not. In 2008 we saw airfreight under threat when the Soil Association put forward plans to ban airfreighted organics. In response we saw academics, NGOs and the UK government coming out to support airfreight, highlighting the positive impacts of supporting trade from developing countries. It was also the first time we saw the notion of Fairmiles introduced in a report from IEED and Oxfam, and one of the authors of that report, James MacGregor, is also here at Fruit Logistica today and will be joining me in a moment for the Q&A.

And so fast forward 18 years and Fairmiles is back – not to stop our progress towards Net Zero, but to ensure we go about it in a way that is fair and inclusive – not just looking after our own interests in the West, but looking after everyone’s interests – ensuring we meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Fundamentally, it’s about climate justice – and ensuring we are protecting and not penalising the most vulnerable communities in how we respond and adapt to climate change.

Today, Fairmiles is a growing consortium of organisations including fresh produce companies, development organisations and universities.
Our aim is to conduct further research on this topic, to raise awareness of the impacts that are not often talked about in the public domain, and to advocate Net Zero guidance that can help businesses take into account the full direct and indirect sustainability impacts, including climate justice implications for vulnerable communities, so that we can make responsible decisions in our efforts to decarbonise.

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