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Agriculture and the food system are key to combat climate change

Posted by: Jeda Palmer

August 22, 2019

We need to transform what type of food we eat, how we grow food, and how we use the land if we are to combat dangerous levels of climate change.

These are the findings of the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

For the report, more than 100 scientists from 52 countries assessed the latest scientific knowledge about climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.

The report found that approximately 25-30% of total greenhouse emissions are attributable to the food system. These are from agriculture and land use, storage, transport, packaging, processing, retail, and consumption.

In the last decade, the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions from the supply side were from on-farm crop and livestock activities, and from land use change such as deforestation and peatland degradation.

Mario Herrero was a lead author, and Daniel Mason-D’Croz and Katharina Waha were contributing authors for the Food Security chapter of the report.

“Food security will be increasingly affected by projected future climate change” said the authors.

Food prices are projected to increase globally due to climate change, with disproportionate impacts on low-income countries. Climate change could lead to an additional 1-183 million people at risk of hunger by 2050 (scenario dependent), compared to a scenario with no climate change.

To combat climate change, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There are opportunities for substantial greenhouse gas mitigation in agricultural systems. In cropping systems, mitigation options include soil carbon sequestration, improved fertiliser and rice system management, and bridging of yield gaps. In livestock systems, mitigation options include improved grazing land and manure management, and higher-quality feed.

Changing what we eat can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Consumption of healthy and sustainable diets presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food systems and improving health outcomes” said the authors.

Examples of healthy and sustainable diets are high in coarse grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds; low in energy-intensive animal-sourced and discretionary foods (such as sugary beverages); and with a carbohydrate threshold.

Reduction of food loss and waste could lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security.

Read the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land.