COP26: WRAP chief affirms consumption as key issue

In the wake of the agreements at COP26, Steve Eminton spoke to Marcus Gover, chief executive of the resources charity WRAP about his views on COP and related issues.

For Dr Gover, chief executive of WRAP, he would like to have seen more talk about consumption at COP26 and hopes that future meetings will see this more on the agenda.

Consumption is a key global warming issue, says Marcus Gover (left) who is pictured at COP26 with Adam Read (centre) and John Scanlon of Suez

He declares: “Consumption is the issue that has been missing for me, that’s been my message that we’ve got to look at consumption emissions as well as territorial emissions.

“If all the governments are looking in their own backyards at what they are doing, that’s fine but it doesn’t reflect the true responsibility we have for the UK where the difference might be they are one and a half or two times the territorial emissions. If we solved those then we’re solving the problems in other countries and we’ll get there.”


At the heart of Dr Gover’s concerns is that CO2 emissions are typically measured on the basis of ‘production’.

This accounting method – which is sometimes referred to as ‘territorial’ emissions – is used when countries report their emissions, and set targets domestically and internationally. However, it does not include emissions arising in other states which produce products for export.

[Consumption-based emissions calculations include emissions from this overseas production and bringing goods back to the importing nation.]


There have been strong promises from businesses before and during COP26 about meeting environmental targets and this is recognised by Dr Gover.

He says: “I was pleased that most of the businesses I talked to are thinking like that. For Courtauld businesses we are working with, they have just agreed to halve UK greenhouse gas emissions from UK food, food that is served in the UK, not just produced here, which helps put us on track to 1.5 degrees. We’ve got a roadmap and can see where we need to decarbonise.”

Observer status

And, he was pleased that WRAP was accepted as an observer at COP: “I saw it as recognition of our work as an international NGO. We are working for the UN and working in 40 countries around the world we have increased internationally considerably in the last two years. To be able to be part of it was quite amazing.” He adds that he was also pleased to have participated in a Suez UK fringe event on sustainability.

While air pollution needs tackling, reducing food waste is also important, says Dr Gover (picture: Shutterstock)

Overall Dr Gover says he was very impressed with COP26 although as a trustee of CIWM, he felt that resources needed to be on the agenda more. Rationalising why waste wasn’t high up the agenda, he commented: “It is this bit about government going to really look at territorial emissions – and businesses and sectors look at the products and consumption emissions – that’s probably behind it. But when you consider that greenhouse gas emissions, 45% of them are associated with the products we use and the food that we eat. If you don’t think about the resources that go into them, you’re not going to solve it; it’s all important, the other 55% is critical too.”


This stands for Nationally Determined Contribution, the detailed plan that individual countries are required to make, under the Paris Agreement, to show how they will cut the amount of harmful greenhouse gases they emit. All countries are expected to revise their NDC to reflect greater ambition.

Dr Gover says that governments have been talking about their NDCs and that consumption isn’t really in the NDCs. “That’s what we’d like to see, consumption, food and products, being considered in the NDCs.”

Food waste is something which can be stopped now, says Dr Gover (picture: Shutterstock)

NDCs are Nationally Determined Contributions which countries have to make to cut greenhouse gases under the Paris Agreement.

Dr Gover explains that “with food waste, between 8-10% of global greenhouse gases are down to food waste, and that’s the emissions associated with producing all that food which is then thrown away and that’s an enormous amount.

“These are six times aviation emissions for instance, just for food waste which is something we can stop. We can stop it now, we don’t need new technology to stop food waste. If you come to the UK, 70% of it is in the home and by doing relatively simple things.”

This is a global message, says Dr Gover. “We did a report with the UN that showed food waste is spread more around the world than we previously thought.”


As for recycling, he says that is important too.

Recycling makes a huge difference and we still need to do more of it
– Marcus Gover

“People want to know what they can do to help, food waste is one of those things. Recycling is one of those things too, it makes a huge difference. In the UK we produce about 200million tonnes of waste and the greenhouse gases associated with producing all that material is also around 200 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent, that’s a huge number.

“Recycling actually avoids around 50 million tonnes of GHG so that’s making a huge difference.”

And, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson appearing to be critical of recycling of plastics last month, Dr Gover says: “He’s right that we should be using less of everything, but recycling makes a huge difference and we still need to do more of it.”

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