Incorporating Food into Manchester’s Climate Change Response

Food is a foundational aspect of our daily lives, and the food provisioning systems which deliver our meals from farm to fork have profound social, economic and environmental impacts. Through its efforts to feed the nation, the UK’s food system generates revenues of about £121 billion per year, and constitutes the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. Although Manchester produces relatively little food, the central importance of food retail and processing for the City’s economy has been highlighted in the Our Manchester Industrial Strategy. Yet the contribution of the food sector to the national and local economy comes at a significant cost to the climate. Despite the relatively low levels of food production in Manchester, the consumption of food and drink has been estimated to account for 16% of the City’s carbon footprint. 

In addition to its climate impacts, the current food system sustains food poverty in the form of unequal access to healthy, affordable, convenient, and appropriate meals for all. In particular, Manchester and Greater Manchester have been recognised nationally as high risk areas for food poverty. These findings indicate that a transition to more sustainable systems of food production, distribution and consumption should be central to the City’s Green and Just Recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the challenge is significant, driving a shift to a more sustainable food system will produce multiple benefits for our citizens, support our commitment to becoming a zero-carbon city by 2038, and contribute toward the UK’s fulfilment of Paris Agreement obligations.

Dr Jo Mylan and Mr Usman Aziz are undertaking work to addresses the inclusion of food systems in Manchester’s sustainability policymaking through two parts.

Part One, outlines why food system innovation toward more sustainable food provision in Manchester should be a key part of a green and just recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic, paving the way for suggestions of how this can be achieved in Part Two, both reports can be found below.

The reports advocated a systemic approach for food, highlighting the multiple economic, social and environmental co-benefits of addressing key problem areas identified in the city’s food provision, including reducing food waste, meat consumption, single use plastics and food insecurity. The report makes a series of recommendations for actions on food -related emissions in the COVID-19 recovery:

●      Support sustainable food entrepreneurship;

●      Improve access to sustainable food to improve food security;

●      Acknowledge that the failures of some previous sustainable food initiatives (e.g. a mobile food market) can be attributed to the way they were implemented, rather than the concepts themselves.

●      Promote new food businesses to catalyse local economic growth and job creation for a green and just COVID-19 Recovery.

●      Continue to resource the Manchester Food Board and Manchester’s membership of the Sustainable Food Places network.

●      Adapt novel practices from climate change experiments in other cities for Manchester.

●      Promote innovation through networks and partnerships.

●      Recognise that new initiatives are unlikely to ‘scale up’ on their own.

●      Recognise that well managed public – private relationships can increase the likelihood of success for new ventures.

●      Support the development of catering systems that prioritise health and sustainability over profit-making.