Cold chains play a vital role in helping the food system deliver affordable, nutritious, and safe food that provides good financial returns for producers. However, operations based on refrigerants with high global warming potential and energy inefficient equipment can have significant environmental impacts.
Currently the global food cold chain is responsible for 1% of greenhouse gas emissions. As new cold chain infrastructure comes online on low- and mid-income economies, these emissions are projected to rise significantly. For example, GHG emissions from cold chains in India are set to double by 2027 without active intervention.
The development of climate-friendly cold chains requires a system transition with multi-actor effort, however, an integrated approach to net zero cold chains is unlikely to emerge organically, as the effort and benefits are spread across many stakeholders, who lack capacity and incentives to coordinate strategically. This presents an opportunity for the philanthropic community to play a catalytic ‘systems integrator’ role, to reduce emissions whilst delivering safer food to consumers and higher incomes to farmers.