Supermarkets must slash food waste to play their part in tackling climate change, a leading industry figure has said.
Ken Murphy, the chief executive of UK supermarket chain Tesco, said the company felt a “huge responsibility” to curb its carbon footprint.
It came as a UK business tsar told companies that they needed to halve their emissions in the next decade as part of their plans to reach net zero.
Andrew Griffith, a Conservative MP and climate champion for Cop26, told businesses that “the eyes of the world are upon us” in the lead-up to the November summit.
The UK is urging businesses to sign up to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign and commit to net zero by 2050 at the latest.
Experts say that 2050 targets must include commitments to cut emissions in the shorter term.
Mr Murphy said the food industry had a major role in this because it depends on exploiting natural resources.
Tesco had generated more than 84,000 tonnes of food waste over the past year, he said.
“We rely on resources around the world and we’re very conscious that food production is a big contributor to climate change,” Mr Murphy said.
“We know that a third of all food produced is wasted, and therefore we feel a huge responsibility to do our part in doing that.”
He said Tesco had stepped up food donations to help people who were pushed into poverty by the fallout from Covid-19.
“It’s an issue that during the pandemic became much more acute,” he said.
Tesco said it cut waste by 29 per cent over the past four years and aimed to halve it by the end of the decade compared to 2016/17 levels.
“It’s not an optional ambition,” said Mr Murphy of Tesco’s climate targets. “I think this is something we all understand as critical, it’s existential.
“It’s amazing what your people can do if you unleash their thinking and problem-solving capability.”
Mr Murphy spoke at a business leaders’ event on Thursday which was part of London Climate Action Week.
Mr Griffith, the UK’s official Net Zero Business Champion for Cop26, said there was a pragmatic case for businesses to invest in climate action.
He said companies could sign up to net zero with the confidence that the target is backed by the UK government, the UN and leading scientists.
“The actions of every single business are going to be central to our successful transition of the new low-carbon economy,” he said.
“If we get it right, we’ll open up large and attractive sectors of the world economy of which British businesses will be able to attract significant market share.”
Dr Enass Abo-Hamed, a representative of youth forum One Young World, told the summit that businesses should listen to younger people who had “skin in the game”.
Many technological breakthroughs in recent years had been spearheaded by young people, she said.
“You want to live a better life, you want a good opportunity to benefit from everything that our planet could offer while it’s liveable.
“That is why giving the young generation a voice and a seat at the table is really important when it comes to the conversation around climate.”