China’s food system, the largest in the world, produced 1.9 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2019, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of Russia. The rise in food emissions is due to factors such as a growing appetite for red meat, increased use of fertilizers, and high levels of food waste.
China aims to address agriculture emissions in the future by promoting a shift towards plant-based diets, improving the efficiency of livestock production, reducing fertilizer use, and implementing waste reduction measures.
The production of food contributes to about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with red meat production being the largest contributor due to the methane produced by cows and sheep.
China’s rapid economic growth since 1978 has resulted in an increase in food production, making it the world’s largest agricultural producer, meat producer, and consumer of pork, with a growing demand for meat.
China’s agricultural sector employs around a quarter of its population and contributes to 8% of its GDP, with agriculture’s share in GDP gradually declining. However, China’s food production is responsible for 14% of the country’s total emissions, with 60% of those emissions coming from pre- and post-production activities such as fertiliser manufacturing, food processing, packaging, retailing, household consumption, and food waste.
Globally, food waste accounts for around 6% of greenhouse gas emissions.
In China, a tradition of sharing elaborate banquets has led to significant food waste, with a 2021 Nature study estimating that 27% of food, or 349 million tonnes, is wasted annually. To tackle the issue, in 2021 the Chinese government launched the “Clean Plate Campaign” and passed the Anti-Food Waste Law, which imposes fines on those who mislead customers into making excessive orders and bans “binge-eating videos”.
Local governments and catering industries have also implemented policies such as the “N-1” model and “clean plate” deposits to limit food waste. However, some extreme proposals, such as measuring customers’ weight before dining, have been criticized.
This plan identifies 10 areas:
- Methane reduction in rice fields
- Fertiliser reduction and efficiency enhancement
- Emissions reductions from livestock and poultry
- “Sink improvement” [boosted CO2 storage] in fisheries
- Energy conservation in agricultural machinery
- Sink improvement in farmland
- Comprehensive utilisation of straw
- Renewable energy replacement
- Science and technology innovation support
- Implementation of farming monitoring systems