Flower air miles cost the climate, study shows

With Valentine's Day marking a peak in the sales of flowers, new research draws attention to the greenhouse gas emissions generated in their transport. The research has prompted calls for an increase in locally grown flowers and more information for consumers.

Britons spend £1.5bn on millions of cut flowers each year, with the bulk (85%) coming from overseas. A fifth of the imports are from countries outside of the EU, with Kenya and Colombia topping the list.

Flowers flown in from Kenya alone are responsible for over 33,000 tonnes of CO2 each year, research released by the Liberal Democrats shows.

Over eighteen tonnes of Kenyan roses and carnations are sold in Britain annually, with around a quarter of all roses sold in Britain originating in Kenya. Imports of flowers from Kenya have been rising dramatically, almost doubling between 2001 and 2005.

Customers should be able to choose locally grown flowers, avoiding the hidden impact of air transport emissions, the Liberal Democrats argue.

Lib Dem shadow environment secretary Norman Baker called for all flowers to be labelled with their country of origin, and pointed out the need to educate the public about the implications of air transport for climate change. He also called for more flowers to be grown locally in the UK.

“Consumers should be choosing flowers that cause minimum damage to the environment. This would encourage growers in Britain to supply more flowers to the domestic market.”

“Sadly the Government needs to be doing much more to create the conditions necessary for such a market to flourish,” he said.

Labelling would allow consumers make an informed choice, said Steve Telle, Liberal Democrat adviser on transport and the environment.

“There has been a lot of discussion around food miles, raising awareness of the emissions from food transport, but most people don’t give a second thought to where the flowers they buy come from.”

Emissions from food transport has been a growing concern, with a recent DEFRA report highlighting the 19 million tonnes of CO2 released in transporting food into the UK – equivalent to 1,8% of the UK’s total annual emissions.

Air transport has the highest CO2 emissions per tonne, and is the fastest growing means of transporting food.

The flower industry has responded to the Liberal Democrats’ report by drawing attention to the energy needed to grow flowers in the British climate.

“To satisfy the demand for cut flowers in the UK, growers would be doing environmental damage here by growing flowers in artificial conditions through using energy to recreate the light levels and warmth needed to grow flowers. Countries that we import from such as Kenya, Columbia and Ecuador have the climate and space to grow flowers,” said Gemma Payne, spokesperson for the Plants and Flowers Association.

by Goska Romanowicz

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