Cities’ Role in Mitigating United States Food System Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Current trends of urbanization, population growth, and economic development have made cities a focal point for mitigating global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The substantial contribution of food consumption to climate change necessitates urban action to reduce the carbon intensity of the food system. While food system GHG mitigation strategies often focus on production, we argue that urban influence dominates this sector’s emissions and that consumers in cities must be the primary drivers of mitigation. We quantify life cycle GHG emissions of the United States food system through data collected from literature and government sources producing an estimated total of 3800 kg CO2e/capita in 2010, with cities directly influencing approximately two-thirds of food sector GHG emissions. We then assess the potential for cities to reduce emissions through selected measures; examples include up-scaling urban agriculture and home delivery of grocery options, which each may achieve emissions reductions on the order of 0.4 and ∼1% of this total, respectively. Meanwhile, changes in waste management practices and reduction of postdistribution food waste by 50% reduce total food sector emissions by 5 and 11%, respectively. Consideration of the scale of benefits achievable through policy goals can enable cities to formulate strategies that will assist in achieving deep long-term GHG emissions targets.