Infant feeding and the energy transition: A comparison between decarbonising breastmilk substitutes with renewable gas and achieving the global nutrition target for breastfeeding

Aoife Long*, Kian Mintz-Woo, Hannah Daly, Maeve O'Connell, Beatrice Smyth, Jerry D. Murphy

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Renewable gas has been proposed as a solution to decarbonise industrial processes, specifically heat demand. As part of this effort, the breast-milk substitutes industry is proposing to use renewable gas as a substitute for fossil natural gas. However, decarbonising the industrial processing of breast-milk substitutes can increase social license for these products, potentially undermining breastfeeding. World Health Organisation nutrition targets aim to increase exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50% globally by 2025 to improve maternal, infant, and young child health and nutrition. This target will have implications for the energy transition. A weakness of existing energy models is that demands for end-use products such as breast-milk substitutes are typically not considered explicitly. This paper develops an analytical framework for explicitly representing infant feeding methods in energy systems models. We compare the emissions saved in Ireland from decarbonising the industrial processing of breast-milk substitutes with renewable gas with the emissions saved by an increase in exclusive breastfeeding to 50% in both Ireland and a key export market, China. We demonstrate that the emissions saved from achieving the minimum global breastfeeding target are greater than when renewable gas is used to displace natural gas in the production of breast-milk substitutes in Ireland. We discuss the decarbonisation of breast-milk substitutes in relation to the principle of justice as non-maleficence, a principle based on the commitment to avoid harm, a novel application of a principle of justice. We conclude that breastfeeding support can be considered a demand-side measure for mitigating climate change by reducing the demand for energy services to produce breast-milk substitutes. A key recommendation is to position breastfeeding support as both a public health and a climate justice issue that is relevant for a just transition. The framework developed for this paper could be applied to support the inclusion of a wider range of mitigation options with social justice outcomes in energy system models.
Original languageEnglish
Article number129280
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume324
Early online date04 Oct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2021

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