Dear UN, put food waste on a diet
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To The United Nations: My name is Food Waste. I noticed that the deadline recently passed for countries to submit national climate action plans for discussion at the Paris climate summit this December.

The fact that you didn’t ask me to submit a plan isn’t surprising. I’m not commonly thought of as a country and I’m not a UN member. But if I was a country, my annual 3.3 billion metric tons of embodied carbon dioxide emissions would make food waste the third largest country in the world behind China and the United States in greenhouse gas emissions, which is the focus of your summit. One-third or more of all food that is grown is never eaten.

Given that, it seemed just as important that I submit my own climate action plan, which will cut food waste to reduce climate emissions, save water, feed more people and boost national economies.

Here is what I suggest.

First, we must start with production and distribution because this is where nearly two-thirds of all food waste occurs. Fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and fish represent more than half of all the food that is wasted before it can be consumed. All of these foods need basic refrigeration, yet only 10 percent of perishable foods are refrigerated worldwide – despite the fact that refrigeration is the best technology to ensure food safety and security. Technology providers should develop energy-efficient and affordable solutions that farmers and distributors can access, saving crops while in transport. If developing countries had the same level of refrigeration for the transportation and storage of food as developed countries, approximately one-quarter of food loss would be avoided and food-loss related emissions reduced accordingly.

More food saved also means greater opportunity to use food as an economic resource to bolster national economies. For example, India produces 28 percent of the world’s bananas yet represents just 0.3 percent of all internationally traded bananas. With an upgraded cold chain, the number of bananas exported could grow from 4,000 to 190,000, providing an additional 95,000 jobs and benefitting as many as 34,600 smallholder farms. That would make quite an impact on India’s farmers and economy.

Second, we need improved basic food safety standards. Not only will more dairy products and other food be made safe for consumption, higher standards would extend food supplies and prevent waste by encouraging more food preservation techniques.

Third, we should focus on consumers, who in developed countries tend to buy too much and throw it away or are served too much and can't finish the portions. Changing this behavior can be done through education and awareness. For example, most people don’t know that they flush away 5.5 gallons of water with each wasted head of broccoli. In fact, the water we use to grow the food we throw away is greater than the water used by any single nation.

Water is so scarce and valuable it’s become the new oil. Because of its current extreme drought, California is implementing a mandatory residential water cutback. This will get worse: by 2025 two thirds of the world’s population will live near a water-distressed area.

In addition to lowering climate emissions and saving water, avoiding food waste will help feed more than 800 million people who go hungry every day, which is the equivalent of the U.S. and European Union together. Reducing food loss can be an essential strategy to nourish the 2.5 billion people we’ll add to the Earth by 2050.

Without a different approach, we'll have to grow more food (while throwing more away) to feed our growing population. But we can’t afford to expand our environmental footprint to feed more people. Instead, we should implement readily available strategies to avoid food loss.

So far, traditional climate discussions at the UN have focused on energy and power plants. But just as energy conservation can work effectively and economically, so too can food conservation. If funding is made available to developing counties to lower climate emissions, the avoidance of food waste must be on the list. Reducing food waste is the only climate action that unlocks solutions for hunger, water scarcity and economic expansion. No other can do the same.

The UN's own Food and Agriculture Organization quantified the environmental footprint of food waste and loss in a landmark report released in 2013. All the data needed to act on this issue is available. We must waste less to feed more.

I may not be a country, or enjoy my own standing in UN climate meetings, but Food Waste’s voice must be heard. The low-hanging fruit for climate protection is literally rotting. Plans like mine to reduce food waste need to be an essential outcome of any international climate accord.

I look forward to working with you. Sincerely, Food Waste.

Mandyck is the chief sustainability officer for UTC Building & Industrial Systems.