CLIF – Climate Impacts of Food

The socio-ecological design of our food systems is indispensable to achieve greater sustainability worldwide. The CLIF project funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection (BMUV) as part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) is making a contribution to this. The aim of the project is to propose a communication tool that is suitable for providing information about the environmental and sustainability impacts of food and thus enabling an information-based decision for more sustainable and resource-conserving food. The communication tool will be developed on a pilot basis for Germany, Paraguay, South Africa and Thailand. It should be possible to use the tool globally.

The project is being carried out jointly by WWF Germany, corsus – corporate sustainability GmbH and TMG-Think Tank for Sustainability. Within the framework of the project, corsus will conduct LCA case studies and workshops with stakeholders in the partner regions of Germany, Paraguay, South Africa and Thailand. The aim is to identify relevant environmental impacts of food and to take into account the conditions in the different regions. At the same time, it is being investigated which databases are suitable for providing the information needed for the communication tool and which requirements the data would have to fulfil. Guidelines for this are being developed in CLIF.

It is known that the planetary boundaries[1] have already been exceeded and that agriculture in particular has a large share in this. The planetary boundaries define a safe space for human societies to develop and thrive. The nine planetary boundaries include:

  • Climate change
  • Integrity of the biosphere: genetic and functional diversity
  • Land system changes
  • Freshwater use
  • Biogeochemcal flows of nitrogen and phosphorus[2]
  • Acidification of oceans
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading[3]
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion[4]
  • Novel entities[5]

For seven of these nine planetary boundaries, the status of pollution, including the influence of agriculture, was estimated. Two of the planetary boundaries are in the safe range: ocean acidification and stratospheric ozone depletion. In the uncertain range with increasing risk are climate change, land use change and freshwater use, and functional diversity. Two of the stress limits are already beyond the uncertain range and are associated with very high risk. The risks are to the integrity of the biosphere (genetic diversity) and the biogeochemical fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorus. According to new findings, the loading limit for chemical pollution has also already been exceeded.[6]

Duration: August 2021 – July 2024

In june 2022 WWF Germany launched a website about CLIF:

The share of agriculture in exceeding the planetary boundaries[7]

[1]     Rockström, Johan, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Asa Persson, F. Stuart III Chapin, Eric Lambin, Timothy Lenton, u. a. „Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity“. Ecology and Society 14, Nr. 2 (18. November 2009).          
Steffen, Will, Katherine Richardson, Johan Rockström, Sarah E. Cornell, Ingo Fetzer, Elena M. Bennett, Reinette Biggs, u. A. 2015. „Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet“. Science, 13. Februar 2015.

[2]     Nitrogen and phosphorus are valuable nutrients for plants. However, they also cause over-fertilisation of ecosystems so that their function is impaired.

[3]     Aerosols are a mixture of solid and liquid suspended particles

[4]     The stratospheric ozone – colloquially known as the ‘ozone layer’ – prevents the sun’s harsh and very energetic UV-B radiation from penetrating the Earth’s atmosphere unhindered. This very high-energy UV-B radiation can destroy molecules such as DNA in the genetic material and proteins.

[5]     This is understood to mean man-made materials or organisms that did not previously exist on Earth. It also includes naturally occurring elements released by human activities, such as heavy metals (Steffen et al. 2015).

[6]     Persson, Linn, Bethanie M. Carney Almroth, Christopher D. Collins, Sarah Cornell, Cynthia A. de Wit, Miriam L. Diamond, Peter Fantke, u. a. „Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities“. Environmental Science & Technology 56, Nr. 3 (1. Februar 2022): 1510–21.

[7]    Campbell, B. M., D. J. Beare, E. M. Bennett, J. M. Hall-Spencer, J. S. I. Ingram, F. Jaramillo, R. Ortiz, N. Ramankutty, J. A. Sayer, and D. Shindell. 2017. Agriculture production as a major driver of the Earth system exceeding planetary boundaries. Ecology and Society 22(4):8.

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