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IIR highlights issues with the cold chain carbon footprint

The International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) has issued an updated document addressing the carbon footprint of the cold chain. It highlights the food safety and environmental benefits of an improved global cold chain.

According to IIR estimates, 12% of food produced globally in 2017 was lost due to an insufficient cold chain. A more extensive cold chain would limit the need to increase agricultural production to compensate for these losses and avoid the corresponding CO2 emissions. This raises the question of whether the additional CO2 emissions resulting from the implementation of a more extensive cold chain are not greater than the emissions avoided by reducing food losses due to a lack of refrigeration. 

To answer this key question, the IIR has developed a model to calculate CO2 emissions for each stage of the cold chain for all countries in the world. This model allows comparison of CO2 emissions associated with the current global cold chain with those of an 'improved' cold chain. The latter corresponds to a reasonable assumption in which the cold chain in all countries is brought to the same level of equipment and performance as that existing in developed countries:

  • An improved global cold chain based on these principles would allow a reduction of almost 50% of the CO2 emissions of the current cold chain. 
  • This improved cold chain would also avoid 55% of the food losses attributable to the current cold chain. 

A summary for policymakers outlines the main conclusions and recommendations of this new document and a methodological annex details the assumptions and main calculations made.

These documents are available in both English and French, and can be downloaded at > Publications > IIR Informatory Notes.


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