According to estimates by a European refrigeration organization, 12 percent of food produced globally in 2017 was lost due to an insufficient cold chain. A more extensive cold chain would limit the need to increase agricultural production to compensate for these losses and avoid the corresponding CO2 emissions.

These insights and more were part of an International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) informatory note on the carbon footprint of the cold chain. It highlights the food safety and environmental benefits of an improved global cold chain.

The independent intergovernmental organization also looked at whether the additional CO2 emissions — resulting from the implementation of a more extensive cold chain — are not greater than the emissions avoided by reducing food losses due to a lack of refrigeration. To answer this question, the IIR developed a model to calculate CO2 emissions for each stage of the cold chain, and for all countries in the world. This model compares the CO2 emissions associated with the current global cold chain with those of an improved cold chain.

According to the IIR model: 

  • An improved global cold chain based on these principles would allow a reduction of almost half of the CO2 emissions of the current cold chain. 
  • This improved cold chain would also avoid 55 percent of the food losses attributable to the current cold chain. 

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