The Sustainable Coffee Challenge Sets Ambitious 2050 Climate Goal

December 21, 2020

Arlington, Va. (December 21, 2020) – Today, members of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge announced an ambitious commitment to avoid at least 1.5 gigatons 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 labor rights and well-being 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 labor 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 nearly 160 members held on Monday, December 7.

“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 stabilize the climate, and help engage billions of coffee consumers in the quest for a more sustainable future,” said Bambi Semroc.

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.

Yet 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, labor 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 Monday’s 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.” The Rainforest Alliance leads the Challenge’s efforts on labor.

Today’s announcement caps off The Sustainable Coffee Challenge’s fifth year, which saw the addition of 18 new partners including Whole Foods, Olam and Aldi South Group. In the coming weeks, the Challenge will release its 2020 commitments report, which will detail the sustainability pledges and commitments made by Challenge members as of September 2020. A recording of the 5-year anniversary event can be found here.

The Sustainable Coffee Challenge, conceived by Conservation International and Starbucks and launched during the Paris climate meetings in 2015, is tackling some of the toughest challenges facing the coffee sector -- environmental sustainability and improving livelihoods -- by uniting players from across the coffee industry. It works to stimulate greater demand for sustainable coffee while forming partnerships to find and scale up programs that improve livelihoods, conserve nature and help ensure a continued coffee supply.

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.

To join as a partner, contact Valerie Beard, Manager, Sustainable Coffee at

About Conservation International

Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature. Conservation International works in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation News, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

About the Sustainable Coffee Challenge

The Sustainable Coffee Challenge convenes, unites and urges the coffee sector and conservation partners across the industry to spur the actions and investments necessary to make coffee the first sustainable agriculture product in the world. The Challenge is committed to stimulating demand for sustainable coffee across the value chain, from the policymaking level to the final consumer. By encouraging demand for sustainable coffee, it leads to investments that enable the transition to a sustainable production and ensuring the coffee we drink is a sustainable product.