Global greenhouse gas emission reduction targets could be just the first of several goals that producers and processors will have to meet in the coming years.
Rabobank managing board member Berry Marttin told the Farm2Fork forum in Sydney there is a global move to extend targets for water, biodiversity and social standards that consumers will expect producers to meet.
These are being driven by a global group called Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which so far has commitments from 4764 companies, of which 2431 have approved emission reduction targets.
In New Zealand, 29 companies have signed on, six of them rural. They are: Comvita, Fonterra, Silver Fern Farms, Synlait Milk, Timberline Australia and NZ and WoolWorks NZ.
Berry said signatory companies have to commit to greenhouse gas emission targets, but policies are pending to also protect and improve water quality, biodiversity and social issues.
“That’s coming our way and more and more people will have standards that will have to be upheld. It’s coming very rapidly.”
For example, global biodiversity targets will be established by 2025 with the goal of being “net nature positive” by 2050.
The water initiative will obligate companies to address their direct impact on water quality and the quantity used, but not water use in the downstream part of the value chain.
“We have used nature because it is very valuable but we also lose nature because it’s free,” said Marttin.
Social commitments will obligate signatories to meet minimum standards for employees.
There appears to be some crossover between the SBTi and the NZ Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP), an on-farm audit and certification of sheep, beef and deer production that is being rolled out to farmers.
Developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), the NZFAP allows red meat and wool industries to have independently verified best-practice in animal health, welfare and production, environmental management and sustainability.
Marttin said underpinning SBTi is the need to double food production, with projections that the global population will reach 9.7 billion in 2050.
That extra food will have to be produced from diminished resources.
“What is going to change is the concept that we need to produce food but using only a fraction of the resources we use today,” Marttin said.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that to achieve that level of food production by 2050 and for the climate to stay under 1.5degC, food producers will need to be four times as efficient.
Marttin urged growers to calculate their emissions intensity so they have a starting point from which to meet their targets.
He said food should be referenced in terms of nutrient value or nutrient density.
While plant-based milk has lower emissions, it also has a fraction of the nutrient density of animal-sourced milk.
Belgium has recently introduced a nutrient score on labels of dairy products and those made from plants which mimic dairy, to assist consumers compare nutritional values.
He is optimistic that food producers can adapt, saying that global agricultural emissions have the potential to be net zero or even become a net carbon sink.
He sees this being achieved through a combination of stopping land use change, a shift in consumption diets, production changes and reducing food loss and waste.
This could allow the food and agriculture sector to become a net sequester of carbon.