Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Food Loss and Waste Approach the Levels from Road Transport

Share of Global Greenhouse Gass Emissions (2011/12)15


If wasted food were a country, it would be the third largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, after the US and China.9

University of California Carbon Neutrality Initiative

Women who have 12 years of schooling have 4 to 5 fewer children than women who have no schooling.11

World Bank

Raising livestock accounts for roughly 23% of all global water use.12


In the US and Canada, around 40% of wasted food is thrown out by consumers.13

Water Footprint Network

There are 112 countries that do not criminalize marital rape.14

World Bank

It takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce a single steak.10

Institution of Mechanical Engineers

It takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce a single steak.10

Institution of Mechanical Engineers

About the Roddenberry Prize

Last year, Project Drawdown, an international coalition of scientists, economists, and experts cataloged and ranked the most effective solutions to global warming. This has never been done before (shocking, right!) and the results are surprising. Some solutions are less effective than one might think (sorry LED lights) and some aren’t even associated with climate change at all. In fact, food waste (#3), plant-rich diets (#4), girls’ education (#6), and women’s rights (#7), all ranked in the top 10 most effective solutions to reduce global warming. Who knew? Not only does each of these four solutions rank ahead of traditional strategies like renewable energy or electric vehicles, but combined they hold the greatest potential to affect climate change.

That’s why the $1 million for the 2018 Roddenberry Prize will be awarded to organizations most effectively working to: (1) reduce food waste; (2) support plant-rich diets; (3) improve girls’ education; and (4) ensure women’s rights.

Project Drawdown: Summary of Solutions By Rank


Connection to Climate Change

In the US, food waste equals a year’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions from 37 million cars.16

Food Waste & Climate Change (Ranked #3)

Food waste occurs everywhere and at almost every step of the food chain. This is a problem for an obvious reason: nearly 800 million people are undernourished worldwide (FAO, 2016)while 1.3 metric gigatons of edible food goes to waste every year. Put another way, if we were to reverse this trend we would preserve enough food to feed 2 billion people — more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe.17

But the issue goes beyond hunger. Food waste is a major source of greenhouse gases. According to Project Drawdown, waste and uneaten food “squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane”. In fact, the food we waste is responsible for roughly 8% of global emissions.

Key strategies to address food waste may include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Improving infrastructure for storage, processing, and transportation
  • Changing food-waste policies and guidelines
  • Educating and raising awareness at the retail and consumer levels and other tailored outreach campaigns
  • Redistributing food and supporting food banks
  • Reducing food loss through better storage, infrastructure, and/or packaging
  • Promoting sustainable food systems

Pound for pound, beef is 34 times more climate pollution-intensive than legumes like beans and lentils.18


Plant-Rich Diets & Climate Change (Ranked #4)

Here’s something you may not know: the livestock sector—raising animals and producing meat, eggs, milk, fur, leather, and wool—generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the planes, trains, and automobiles on the planet! And, that’s only part of the problem (yes, there’s more).19 As we eat more meat, more land is turned over to producing feedstock for animals. As more and more forests are cleared for pastures to feed all these animals, the trees disappear, and so does the earth’s natural method of storing carbon. The problem is getting worse. According to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, annual per capita meat consumption in developing countries doubled from 31 pounds in 1980 to 62 pounds in 2002. The FAO predicts that meat production will double again by 2050 unless we do something about it.

Key strategies for a plant-rich diet may include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Reformulating existing products to provide a greater ratio of plant protein
  • Promoting plant-based diets, cuisines, and recipes
  • Creating and driving campaigns that promote plant-rich diets
  • Driving research that makes the case for plant-based diets

Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18.20


Girls’ Education & Climate Change (Ranked #6)

Girls rock! Why? Because all of the data indicates that a society that values and invests in girls and their education results in safer, more stable communities, overall economic prosperity, and an empowered citizenry. So, what’s the connection to climate change and why does the Brookings Institution call secondary schooling for girls the “single most cost-effective and best investment against climate change”?

Simply put, more schooling correlates to more empowered women who have greater agency and opportunity for living healthier lives. More informed and better educated girls marry later in life which leads to smaller families; they make better decisions for themselves as they age and for their families in regards to nutrition, food (yes!), and childcare; they develop adaptive agricultural practices necessitated by climate change; and they practice techniques to mitigate the effects of pollutants and other hazards.

Key strategies to improving girls’ education include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Making school affordable
  • Helping girls overcome health barriers
  • Reducing the time and distance to get to school
  • Ensuring that girls learn and feel safe while in school
  • Ensuring the completion of all levels of education
  • Ending child marriage
  • Improving the socio-emotional and life skills necessary to navigate adulthood

While women make up 49.6% of the world’s population, only 11 women served as heads of state in 2015.21


Women’s Rights & Climate Change (Ranked #7)

Women’s rights and climate change are intricately linked in big and small ways. Because women are largely responsible for and play a central role in food preparation, community engagement, child rearing, family care, and domestic activities, they are both uniquely affected by and positioned to be the stewards of environmental resilience practices. And it turns out that women often show more concern for the environment, support pro-environmental policies and vote for pro-environmental leaders than men.

If we are serious about addressing climate change, women must have greater personal choice in terms of reproductive care and family planning, access to education, and financial independence. Ignoring the contributions of women to climate adaptation and mitigation—not to mention the associated gains of a more educated female population— is potentially the greatest missed opportunity in our ability to create a sustainable future.

Key strategies to increasing women’s rights may include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Promoting gender equality
  • Promoting maternal health and reproductive rights
  • Increased education for women
  • Improvements in public health
  • More child care facilities
  • Giving women equal voice in cultural, social, economic, and political spheres of life

A note on family planning
The correlation between population growth and climate change has been studied at length. Evidence suggests that if all women could exercise reproductive choice, population growth would slow enough to bring greenhouse gas emissions below current levels. We want to be clear that in supporting women’s rights to reproductive health and access to family planning services we are NOT suggesting that the burden is on developing countries (where women have more children) or that women should have fewer babies (unless they want to). We are advocating for services and interventions that speak to the unmet need,22 expressed by over 225 million women, for family planning — a need that if met by 2050 would lower the world’s carbon emissions by an estimated 17% below what they are today.23