New research: Agribusiness companies' official emissions figures appear to massively understate true climate impact

Monday, 7 December, 2015
  • True impact of top agriculture firms likely to be much larger than official figures suggest, new research shows
  • While Yara promotes ‘Climate Smart Agriculture' at COP 21, the report estimates that the Norwegian company’s Scope 3 emissions are two and half times greater than those of Norway itself
  • Cargill’s unreported emissions estimated to be greater than combined national emissions of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

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Research released today at the UN climate talks in Paris suggests that official emissions figures from agribusiness companies fall far short of reflecting the full climate impact of their operations. While agribusiness companies are at COP 21 in Paris portraying themselves as leaders in sustainability, the research shows that the model of industrial agriculture they are practicing is extremely carbon intensive and a serious challenge to dealing with the threat of climate change.

The report ‘Silent but Deadly - Estimating the real climate impact of agribusiness companies’ makes estimations of unreported "scope 3" greenhouse gas emissions for three companies: Cargill, Yara and Tyson, which are amongst the world’s biggest firms in the cattle feed, nitrous fertiliser and beef industries respectively. Scope 3 emissions cover indirect emissions, such as those associated with the upstream and downstream supply chains of operations.

The report estimates that:

  • Cargill's undeclared Scope 3 emissions of 130 million tonnes CO2e are broadly comparable to the combined national emissions of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
  • Yara has undeclared Scope 3 emissions of over 62 million tonnes CO2e, greater than the annual national emissions of New Zealand, and over 2.5 times greater than those of Norway itself.
  • Tyson has undeclared Scope 3 emissions of 29 million tonnes CO2e is broadly comparable to the combined national emissions of Luxembourg, Armenia and Suriname.

(CO2e refers to the range of greenhouse gases calculated as the equivalence of carbon dioxide)

The estimations were made by looking at the global CO2e for each sector, and then dividing it by the market share for each of the companies expressed as a percentage.

Alex Scrivener, the policy at Global Justice Now and co-author of the report said:

“We know the big oil and coal companies are creating environmental havoc, but agribusiness still gets away with painting itself as part of the ‘solution to climate change’ despite causing huge damage to the climate. The model of intensive industrial agriculture is broken – it displaces small farmers and means food is grown for the richest, not for those who need it most. But we now also know that it’s not sustainable, pumping out so many emissions that it endangers our ability to farm altogether.”

On Monday 7 December the Norwegian fertiliser company Yara will be taking part in an official side event at COP 21 as part of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). Climate Smart Agriculture has been roundly criticised by global civil society as a purposefully vague concept that it used by big agribusiness to greenwash the unsustainability of industrial farming. In 2014 numerous NGOs and farmers organisations signed an open letter rejecting GACSA for being “being structured to serve big business interests, not to address the climate crisis.”

Alex Scrivener, the policy at Global Justice Now and co-author of the report said:

“This report is being released today because agribusiness is lobbying for what it calls ‘climate smart agriculture’ at COP21. Climate smart agriculture is being used by these companies as an excuse to continue climate-trashing business as usual in another name. But even if these companies were doing all they could to be more sustainable – and they’re clearly not – this form of agriculture relies on too many emissions and too little social justice. These three companies are just a snapshot of what’s going on. Small farmers, farming organically where possible, are the answer to both climate change and a more just economy.  We should do everything we can to make their lives sustainable.”