For two weeks in 2021, world leaders came together at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference to discuss collective action on climate change.
Known as COP26, it involved negotiations on a range of issues, including deforestation, coal production, and net-zero targets. The overarching objective was for the summit to be a turning point in the race against climate change.
Despite accusations of hypocrisy and claims that negotiations didn’t go far enough, many of the agreements made at COP26 will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences for businesses, now and in the future.
Those in the coffee sector are no exception. Many coffee businesses rely on the regular supply of green beans flown from thousands of miles away, not to mention gas-powered machines and plastic packaging, among other things.
Keeping abreast of global strategies to reduce carbon emissions, eliminate waste, and create a more sustainable supply chain is fundamental for the success of roasters and coffee shops.
I spoke with corporate sustainability expert Allie Stauss to understand more about COP26 and what it means for the coffee sector.
What is COP26?
Conference of the Parties – or simply COP – is the annual UN Climate Change Conference.
It brings together leaders from countries that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty.
The UNFCCC’s primary goal is the “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system”.
For almost three decades, UNFCCC members (or parties) have been meeting annually. COP26, which was held last month in Glasgow, Scotland, represents the twenty-sixth session.
Allie is a sustainability professional with nearly a decade of experience building programmes and partnerships to strengthen the sustainability of the global coffee sector.
She tells me COP26 is the first significant meeting since the landmark Paris Agreement, a treaty signed in 2015 in which world leaders agreed to specific global warming targets.
“COP26 is a critical opportunity for the world’s leaders to take drastic and unprecedented action to achieve the objectives set forth by the Paris Agreement,” she says. “This includes limiting temperature increase to 1.5° C and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”
To achieve these ambitious targets, research shows the world needs to collectively halve emissions over the next decade and reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century.
Therefore, the purpose of COP26 was not only to assess progress since 2015, but also look at ways to effectively hit these targets before time runs out.
What COP26 means for the coffee industry
A broad range of objectives and plans were discussed during the two-week meeting, some of which will have profound and lasting effects on a number of industries.
These are some of the decisions made that will have direct implications for roasters and the coffee industry:
(1) Ending deforestation
At COP26, global leaders have collectively pledged to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.
Coffee is an agricultural product with close links to deforestation. A report by climate expert Peter Baker suggests that coffee production growth is primarily driven by deforestation – and technological advancement only plays a small part. In particular, deforestation for new coffee lands is estimated to exceed 100,000 hectares per year.
“Given that the coffee industry has historically contributed to deforestation,” Allie says, “we can expect significant attention to be placed on coffee roasters and their ability to adjust sourcing strategies. They will also need to support their suppliers in the transition to farm management approaches that preserve forested landscapes.
“The EU just published a draft law that will require companies to prove high-risk agricultural commodities – including coffee – were not linked to deforestation.
“If they are unable to provide evidence that their sourcing practices have not contributed to deforestation, EU-based roasting companies will not be able to import green coffee destined for the 450 million coffee consumers in the bloc.”
(2) Regenerative food production system
Another important outcome of the conference that will affect coffee businesses is the launch of Regen10. Regen10 is a farmer-focused initiative that aims to shift 50% of the world’s food production towards regenerative approaches by 2030.
“The coffee industry has potential for regenerative transformation and susceptibility to negative climate change-related impacts,” Allie tells me. “Therefore, it will need to be actively involved in this initiative.”
For example, Italian coffee brand, Illy, has been experimenting with regenerative agricultural projects in their Guatemalan and Ethiopian coffee plantations, focusing on soil health which is crucial for soil carbon sequestration.
(3) Global methane pledge
Allie explains that because coffee grounds emit methane as they decompose at landfill sites, the coffee industry is affected by this pledge.
At the same time, she says that there is an opportunity for coffee roasters to help drive sustainability. Specifically, scientists have found that coffee grounds can be an effective and stable medium to store methane. This presents an opportunity for roasters and coffee shops to repurpose their used grounds, helping promote a circular economy.
Moving forward with COP26
Climate change poses serious risks to the coffee industry. In particular, researchers at the UK’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens found that climate changes threatens to make at least 60% of all coffee species extinct.
A recent scientific review also concluded that coffee quality is sensitive to shifts in environmental conditions.
Therefore, it is essential that the coffee industry heeds the call of COP26 to address climate change before it is too late.
“To effectively drive progress towards COP26’s goals and ensure a stable supply of high-quality coffee, roasters must support farmers in the transition to sustainable and regenerative farm management approaches,” Allie says.
“This will include careful incorporation of reforestation, potentially through agroforestry, into coffee-growing landscapes.
“It will also mean examining the climatic impact of their packaging and identifying pathways for decarbonising this part of the product.”
In recent years, many coffee companies have made clear their intentions to reduce their carbon footprint.
There are the various avenues that roasters look into to cut down carbon emissions. These range from using eco-friendly packaging and switching to energy-efficient roasters, to funding large scale carbon-offsetting initiatives.
Ultimately, COP26 has the potential to reshape how industries operate – from changes to business and regulatory landscape, to growing environmental awareness among consumers. These represent both risks and opportunities for coffee roasters to create value from the call for sustainability.
At MTPak Coffee, we are committed to helping coffee roasters achieve the goal of reducing carbon emissions, not only to stay ahead of the competition, but to protect the coffee industry and everyone involved in it.
Our packaging solutions are made from recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable materials, and we use low VOC water-based inks for printing, which minimises the carbon footprint of your coffee packaging.