Incorporating Food into Manchester’s Climate Change Response: Why Manchester Needs a Sustainable Food Mission

Usman Aziz, Josephine Mylan

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


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 (Hasnain et al., 2020), and constitutes the UK’s largest manufacturing sector (FDF, 2021). 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 (MCCA, 2021). This is significant, and food has been identified as a hotspot for the City’s consumption-based (Scope 3) emissions (Jones, 2019; Wendler & Blakey, 2021). 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 (Dimbleby et al., 2020). In particular, Manchester and Greater Manchester have been recognised nationally as high risk areas for food poverty (MCC & STC, 2020). 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.
Stimulating transition toward a more sustainable food system in Manchester is challenging for many reasons. These include the lack of attention to food systems within local, national and international sustainability or innovation policies to date. For example, the Greater Manchester Local Industrial Strategy.
Strategy (HM Government, 2019), developed in appreciation of global trajectories of change, makes no direct reference to food systems, either in discussions of decarbonisation or more broadly in the report. Similarly, food systems are absent from the national government’s 10-Point Green Recovery Plan to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to address this attention deficit, by both strengthening the position of food in the upcoming Manchester Climate Change Framework refresh 2021, and building on the networking capacity and collaborative initiatives enabled through the Manchester Food Board (MFB). The evidence in this report supports the position taken in the Manchester Food Board’s 2020 Policy Statement, which highlights the need for food system innovation in delivering a sustainable food system for Manchester, planning Manchester’s green and just recovery from COVID-19, and achieving net-zero emissions twelve years ahead of the national target (MFB, 2020).
This report 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. More specifically, Part One aims to:
1. Present evidence highlighting key problem areas of the current, unsustainable food system in Manchester;
2. Introduce a Sustainable Food Mission to encourage cross-sectoral collaboration, thereby ensuring the best outcomes for Manchester citizens and the environmental implications of the city’s food consumption;
3. Suggest that the development and adoption of a mission-led approach would align motivation and action across public and private domains to support delivery on Sustainable Food; and
4. Highlight the multiple co-benefits in domains of environmental impact, health, well-being and the local economy which can accompany a Sustainable Food Mission.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages47
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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