During our assessment of their climate, nature and food strategies, councils scored on average just one third (32 per cent) of available points. For six in ten councils (59 per cent), no significant or meaningful actions to address the climate impact of food were found, just under a third (29 per cent) had a barebones strategy and around one in ten councils (12 per cent) had more developed and measurable plans.
Some councils are taking commendable positive and ambitious action, and are deservedly recognised as leaders in this report, with many highlighted as case studies. Councils with Sustainable Food Partnerships scored on average 11 per cent more than those without. In our interviews with high-performing councils, collaborative working through partnerships was frequently mentioned as key to developing and implementing an effective local food strategy.
Scoring across the four nations and the thematic areas assessed was variable. Overall, councils in Scotland came out on top, scoring 39 per cent of available points. Councils in Northern Ireland picked up just 11 per cent of available points, though this low score is partly because school food in Northern Ireland is managed by the Education Authority rather than local councils.
Food waste was the area for which councils performed best, scoring on average 45 per cent of available points. This may be because there are clear targets (and funding) for local authorities to set up food waste collections, which is not the case for the other thematic areas that we assessed. Councils generally scored worst on farming and food growing, picking up just 19 per cent of available points. However, the distribution of scores was significantly worse for procurement, with 83 per cent of councils having no or very little plans in place. This contrasts with 47 per cent of councils having no or very little plans in place for farming and food growing.
There was a great deal of variation in performance in different regions and across themes, and effective national policy was found to make a significant difference. Notably, councils in Scotland (which has a national policy requiring councils to develop a food growing strategy) scored a third higher on our Farming and Food Growing theme.
This is supported by evidence from outside the UK. Including food in national climate plans has been found to improve the mitigation and adaptation contributions from the food systems by up to 25 per cent.
With food contributing to over a third of UK greenhouse gas emissions, action at the national and local level is needed immediately. National Government needs to set the policy framework and priorities, and both government and councils need to recognise that our current food system is not sustainable; for our climate, biodiversity, and food security. Those trailblazing councils who are taking action need to be recognised and congratulated and can be used to model policies and plans for councils that are just starting their food journeys. The effects of climate change are already being felt through food price rises and farmers’ incomes, and inequality and food poverty are worsening in the UK. The less we do and the later we act, the worse the consequences of climate change.
Creating a more sustainable, localised and equitable food system will support sustainable farmers and producers, create good jobs, improve health outcomes, boost nature and significantly contribute to council net zero commitments.
 WRAP (2021) UK Food System GHG Emissions. Available online at: https://wrap.org.uk/resources/report/uk-food-system-ghg-emissions [accessed 12/10/2022]