How climate change puts supply chains at risk…

Thursday Sep 16, 2021

Climate Change

Our changing climate is not a new problem. Governments, businesses and civil society have known for decades that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are trapping huge amounts of heat energy in the atmosphere and that, unchecked, this threatens communities across the world.

It cannot be overstated; climate change is real and life-threatening. The science is clear and indisputable. Climate volatility is already affecting the foods we all rely on and the people who produce them.

In 2019 members of the Co-op Group took the historic decision to formally recognise the climate emergency, to commit to science based GHG reduction, and to take responsibility for both the direct impacts of running our business and for the products that we sell.

Objectives were as follows:

  • To determine the risk to our supply chains from the effects of climate change
  • To take the necessary action to achieve net zero GHG emissions as soon as practically possible
  • To engage across the wider sector to tackle these unprecedented challenges.

The Co-op Group have worked closely with the British Retail Consortium (BRC) during 2020 to agree a roadmap not just for themselves to achieve these stretching commitments, but for the retail sector to do so together. 62 retailers have joined and signed up to a joint plan to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2040, across the businesses as well as co-operative supply chains, 10 years ahead of international agreements.

Risk to supply chains

It should be very clear that climate change is a human issue as much as it is an environmental one. Sourcing each ingredient that goes into Co-op products supports people, their livelihoods, their families and communities. Many of these producer communities face huge risks as a result of climate change.

Throughout 2020 the Co-op has worked together with experts from the University of York IKnowFood programme to identify the potential impacts of climate change upon a selection of key ingredients. This is an important piece of research which will inform the planning and work with suppliers over the coming years.














Illustration credit: Paulina Flores Martínez, Bob Doherty and Tony Heron (2020). Future Climate Change Impacts and Challenges for Key Food Ingredients. IKnowFood, University of York, funded by the Global Food Security Programme, UKRI and supported by University of York Communications Team.


Case study: Climate change impact on Fairtrade coffee producers

The effects of climate change are already being felt by our coffee producers. As temperatures rise, bugs and diseases such as leaf rust are spreading which is affecting production, yield and incomes.

It also means that land suitable for coffee growing is moving to higher altitudes, resulting in deforestation as land is cleared for planting, causing further biodiversity loss and soil degradation.

By 2050, it is expected that the total area of land suitable for coffee growing will have reduced by 50%. To tackle the twin issues of the climate crisis and falling numbers of young people seeing coffee farming as a viable future, we’ve supported Fairtrade Africa’s East Africa Youth in Coffee Programme, which creates opportunities to involve young people in the coffee value chain.

We funded the implementation of this programme at the Mutira Farmers’ Co-operative Society in Kenya, who sit in our supply chain. The six-month project trained 61 youths on agricultural practices, coffee nutrition and establishing nurseries for more climate-resilient coffee beans. In the 2021 main season, 200,000 seedlings will be distributed to farmers with priority given to youths and women at Mutira Farmers’ Co-operative Society, to increase production.