Sustainable Coffee Challenge commits to ambitious climate goals

Sustainable Coffee Challenge members have announced a commitment to avoid at least 1.5 gigatons (GT) of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 – the equivalent of removing 11 million cars from the road each year – by increasing production on existing coffee lands.

To drive the immediate and urgent individual and collaborative efforts needed to meet this 2050 goal, members of the Challenge announced the following targets for 2025:

  • Restore 1.5 million hectares of tree cover and protect 500,000 hectares of forest, securing 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide;
  • Meet the growing global demand for coffee by increasing smallholder production by 7% (11.9 million bags) through renovation, rehabilitation and investments on existing farms;
  • Fully protect the labour rights and wellbeing of coffee workers and establish living income and wage benchmarks in at least 80% of ICO member producing countries and initiate public-private interventions to close and surpass living income and wage gaps;
  • Ensure that at least 50% of global coffee purchased by roasters and retailers is sourced according to sustainable practices that protect the labour rights of farmers and workers, conserve natural resources and provide benefits back to communities where coffee is produced.

The goals and 2025 targets were agreed to at a virtual gathering of the Challenge’s members, held on Monday 7 December 2020.

“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 stabilise the climate, and help engage billions of coffee consumers in the quest for a more sustainable future,” said Bambi Semroc, acting senior vice president, Center for Sustainable Lands and Waters, Conservation International.

To meet growing global demand, coffee production is expected to double by 2050. Without improving growing practices, that could mean the destruction of millions of hectares of carbon-rich forests to make room for coffee crops. However, if grown sustainably, coffee could instead serve as a “natural climate solution” says Shyla Raghav, Conservation International’s vice president of Climate Solutions. According to research led by Conservation International’s Bronson Griscom, these solutions, which include the protection, restoration and improved land management of carbon-rich landscapes, could deliver at least 30% of emissions reductions needed by 2030 to avert climate breakdown.

“The coffee sector has a choice to make, to either be a driver of the climate crisis – or serve as a climate solution. 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,” said Raghav.

Yet achieving this potential will remain elusive without also improving the livelihoods and well-being of coffee farmers – an effort that is central to the work of the Challenge. “Farmers must first be able to provide for themselves and their families,” said Semroc. “Otherwise, labour abuses and unsustainable practices will continue.”

“We are setting an ambitious goal so farm workers in coffee can receive a living wage,” said Miguel Zamora, director of Markets Transformation at the Rainforest Alliance in a recorded message to the Challenge’s virtual gathering. “All coffee families should have access to healthy food, clean water, decent housing, education for their children and access to health care. We all deserve the chance to thrive from coffee.”

In joining the Challenge, partners commit to contributing in four action networks: sustainable sourcing; resilient coffee supply; farmer and worker well-being and prosperity and forest and climate.

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