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Who’s responsible for the environmental impact of what we eat?

  • Published
    7th Dec, 2023
Context

What is more fair: accounting for the impact at the point of production or where it is eventually consumed?

About

The Global Agricultural Trade Dilemma:

  • The relentless demand for agricultural products is causing far-reaching social and environmental consequences worldwide, with international trade exacerbating the impact.
  • India, as a global agricultural anchor, plays a pivotal role in this intricate web of trade and its associated challenges.

Measuring Impacts and Allocating Responsibility

  • The conventional method relies on production-based accounting, measuring impacts at the place of origin.
  • However, concerns ariseregarding its limitations, accountability issues, and the need for equity among producers and consumers.

Defining Consumption-Based Accounting

  • Consumption-based accounting attributes all social and environmental impacts during production and trade to the final products and consumers.
  • This approach urges consumers, whether individuals or nations, to acknowledge responsibility for the embodied impacts of the products they consume.

Linking Consumption to Consequences

  • From a demand perspective, the approach asserts that developed economies, as major consumers, bear responsibility for the pressure on natural and human resources.
  • This aligns with arguments of equity, acknowledging the historical responsibility of developed nations in global emissions.

Incentivizing Cleaner Production

  • Proponents argue that consumption-based accounting can drive cleaner production practices by encouraging producer countries to lower the environmental footprint of their exports.
  • It addresses 'leaks' in production systems, promoting adherence to higher production standards.

Policy Initiatives and Environmental Action

  • Recent initiatives, such as the European Commission's steps to prevent deforestation-linked products, showcase the potential of consumption-based accounting in policymaking.
  • This approach can significantly reduce carbon emissions and biodiversity loss tied to global trade.

India's Dual Role

  • India finds itself uniquely positioned, contributing to the environmental footprint of major developed economies through agricultural exports.
  • Simultaneously, its own deforestation footprint abroad is increasing, necessitating a nuanced approach to shared responsibility.

Facilitating Global Environmental Action

  • Consumption-based accounting holds the potential to foster a fair agreement on global environmental action, with both producers and consumers sharing responsibilities.
  • It provides a basis for addressing historical roles in climate, pollution, and biodiversity loss crises.

Challenges and Opportunities: Implementing Consumption-Based Accounting

  • While implementation poses challenges related to liability, monitoring, and compliance, consumption-based accounting serves as a valuable tool for diagnosing impact-intensive consumption patterns.
  • It also encourages individual and collective changes in consumption behavior.

Way Forward:  A Path to Sustainable Agricultural Trade

  • In navigating the complexities of global agricultural trade, consumption-based accounting emerges as a crucial tool for promoting sustainability.
  • As the world grapples with the environmental implications of its consumption patterns, a shift toward shared responsibility may pave the way for a more equitable and sustainable future.Top of Form
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