Balanced diets, greener agriculture and cutting waste critical to combating climate crisis
21 Mar 2023 --- Global food systems need to dramatically transform if society has any chance of preventing the Earth from warming over 1.5 celsius by 2050 or reverse the heating if it overshoots. Balanced diets with less meat, green investments and crop resilience innovations will be key to slowing down emissions while maintaining agricultural yields that safeguard planetary food security, flags the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
While the limit will most probably be breached, “almost irrespective of our choices” around the first half of the 2030s, IPCC scientists affirm that it is possible for global warming to plateau around a degree and a half above pre-industrial levels.
However, this will involve billions of dollars worth of investments from the agri-food sector.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food system emissions – from agricultural production, packaging, land use and waste management – accounted for 31% of global emissions in 2020 – down from 38% in 2000.
Moreover, a study by Columbia University revealed that global food consumption could single-handedly add almost 1°C to warming by 2100.
The tools are available
UNEP executive director of the UN environment program Inger Andersen flags that “we have the technology and know-how to get the job done” and reduce emissions.
“Renewable energy, energy efficiency, green transport, green urban infrastructure, halting deforestation, ecosystem restoration, sustainable food systems – reduced food loss and waste – will help to stabilize our climate, reduce nature biodiversity loss and pollution and waste,” she explains.
However, the investments needed will be three to six times the current climate investments, notes Dr. Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, highlighting the current “pace and scale of climate action are insufficient.”
Plant-based diets “crucial”
The IPCC report published yesterday was a “missed opportunity” to raise awareness about the effects of diet on climate, according to ProVeg International. For example, the report did not mention alternative proteins.
“The IPCC synthesis report highlights the need to shift to more plant-based diets to reduce GHG emissions from the agriculture sector and meet the Paris Agreement of keeping below 1.5C,” says Raphaël Podselver, director of UN affairs at ProVeg International.
“Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 20% of carbon emissions and only by shifting to more climate-friendly diets – grains, beans, pulses, fruit, vegetables and alternative proteins – will we reduce these emissions,” Podselver continues.
However, IPCC does note in its report that “balanced and sustainable healthy diets and reduced food loss and waste present important opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of biodiversity and human health.”
IPCC describes balanced diets as those that feature plant-based foods.
Green investments will pay off
With the current global warming trend, food production will be severely affected by severe weather events, such as the Northern Hemisphere drought of 2022.
The cost of deforestation, by itself, is calculated at nearly a quarter trillion by 2030, according to the UN. Furthermore, warmer climates are set to scorch food production across countries over the next few years.
In 2022, a study revealed that more than four out of five meat and dairy sector capital investors are worried about climate change and how it will affect their investments. However, only 33% are taking action on those risks.
“Investors should price the risks of climate change,” the IPCC panel stresses.
The IPCC estimates that climate change has reduced agricultural productivity growth by 21% since 1961 and up to 34% in Africa and Latin America.
Climate resilience paramount
The IPCC panel reiterated yesterday that the poorest countries – which are also the lowest carbon emitters – will have to deal with the worst aspects of climate change and suffer damaging agricultural yields.
“As the Synthesis Report makes clear, the scale of the challenge is unprecedented, with the burden falling disproportionately on the developing world such as those in the monsoon regions and elsewhere in the tropics,” says Professor Andy Turner, a climate scientist and a lead author of the IPCC report.
Last year, for example, Pakistan suffered a cataclysmic monsoon in its food-producing region of Sindh, with the WEF estimating 800,000 hectares of farmland being lost.
drought-resistant wheat varieties, farm robots and increasing the biodiversity of our food system.Nonetheless, climate change mitigation also advances to keep yields up despite an unpredictable climate. Some of the innovations brought forward are
Adapting to worsening climate
IPCC explains that some effective adaptation options include cultivar heat improvements, on-farm, water management and storage, soil moisture conservation, irrigation, agroforestry, community-based adaptation, farm and landscape level diversification in agriculture and sustainable land management.
FAO deputy director-general Helena Semedo, however, explains that while climate change policies and laws have improved, policy regarding agriculture is lacking.
“The barriers preventing the implementation of mitigation measures in agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors are financial, institutional and governance-related,” she flags.
“The report shows how agriculture can be central to climate action. It highlights that agriculture is already impacted by climate change, showing that its adaptation is urgent to ensure food security and nutrition, leaving no one behind,” Semedo explains.
“Agriculture, including crop and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, offers solutions that contribute to both adaptation and mitigation,” she concludes.
By Marc Cervera
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