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The biggest players in coffee pledge to slash 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 by 2050

Coffee beans being processed

A global coalition of over 150 major coffee producers, traders, roasters and retailers have collectively pledged to slash their CO2 emissions by "at least" 1.5 gigatonnes by mid-century, unveiling a plan to ramp up investment in smallholder farms and tropical forest restoration.

The Sustainable Coffee Challenge — which was launched by Conservation International and Starbucks five years ago and counts Walmart, McDonalds, Nescafe, Nespresso and Aldi South Group among its members — approved a major sustainability program last month that commits members to collectively protecting 1.2 million acres of forest over the next five years, a push it claimed would secure 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The consortium, which counts more than 150 companies and nonprofits across 35 counties, also pledged to channel investment to smallholder farmers that would allow them optimize production on existing farms, a move it said would help meet soaring demand for coffee without dramatically expanding the sector's agricultural footprint and use of natural resources.

Coffee requires huge amount of resources to cultivate and is typically farmed in tropical and subtropical areas that are home to the world's greatest stores of forest carbon sinks and biodiversity. Meanwhile, global coffee production is expected to double by 2050 to meet soaring global demand. Research produced by the Sustainable Coffee Challenge therefore has warned that producers must significantly increase coffee yield per hectare at their existing farms to ensure the sector's expansion does not fuel further destruction of critical carbon-rich forests.

The coffee sector has a choice to make, to either be a driver of the climate crisis — or serve as a climate solution.

Bambi Semroc, who as vice president of sustainable markets and strategy at Conservation International leads the Sustainable Coffee Challenge initiative, argued the group had an important role to play in steering a more sustainable future for the rapidly expanding sector.

"With nearly 160 members from across the coffee sector, the Sustainable Coffee Challenge is uniquely positioned to work together to achieving coffee's enormous potential to provide livelihoods for millions, help stabilize the climate and help engage billions of coffee consumers in the quest for a more sustainable future," she said.

Research from Conservational International has found that a sector-wide embrace of more effective land management practices and landscape protection and restoration could deliver a net positive climate impact from the coffee industry by helping to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.

"The coffee sector has a choice to make, to either be a driver of the climate crisis — or serve as a climate solution," Conservation International's vice president of climate solutions, Shyla Raghav, said. "Coffee is produced in landscapes that, if more sustainably and effectively managed, can actually sequester carbon. By optimizing the production of coffee, we build a more resilient and secure future for us all."

At a virtual meeting in December, Sustainable Coffee Challenge members approved the group's new sustainability program and goals, which also include a pledge to ensure that at least half of all coffee purchased by roasters and retailers has been sourced sustainably.

They also pledged to fully protect the labor rights and well-being of coffee workers and to establish living income and wage benchmarks in "at least 80 percent" of the 49 countries signed up to the International Coffee Organization.

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