A leaked draft report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveals that keeping global temperatures down cannot be done without a total transformation in our current food production and land management systems. Crucially, the IPCC report underscores that attempts to cut down carbon emissions from transportation and energy will not be sufficient to battle our climate emergency.
Scientists are giving world leaders a clear warning that global warming is happening at a rate that is irreversible for the planet unless we make drastic changes to the way we use land and produce food. 72% of the planet’s arable land has already been exploited by humans to support the world’s ever-growing population. Furthermore, more than 50% of methane greenhouse gas emissions come from cattle and rice fields. While deforestation accounts for a significant fraction of carbon emissions, the intensive impact of industrial livestock farming can no longer be discounted as a major driver of environmental degradation.
Adopting renewables is certainly an important part of the solution, but it is not enough alone – the climate disaster we face can only be reverted with an overhaul of our entire global system including action from both governments and powerful corporations. While company executives from corporations that profit from industrial agriculture will fight adaptation, governments have to crack down on activities that are no longer sustainable for our planet. Resource constriction and climate instability necessitates a shift away from agricultural practices that have damaged ecosystems, exploited water and land, and exacerbated hunger.
The consequences of an increasingly hotter earth will be inflamed over time: We are looking at increasingly volatile weather patterns and frequent natural disasters. The report states that “climate change exacerbates land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, wind, sea-level rise and wave action.”
These worrying trends are already affecting human security for many individuals. For instance, sea-level rises caused by anthropogenic global warming has already destabilised communities living in low-level areas and inhabitants of small island states. It has prompted an increasing number of “climate refugees” who are forced to relocate due to physical environmental threats. We have also seen extreme weather patterns sweeping regions across the world in recent weeks, from melting ice-caps and record-shattering wildfires in the Arctic circle to heatwaves in Europe and the United States. With more and more severe weather shocks becoming common, agricultural output is predicted to decline as much as 2 percent for every decade, threatening food shortages.
Commenting on the leaked report this week, Policy Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment Bob Ward said: “We are now getting very close to some dangerous tipping points in the behaviour of the climate – but…it is going to be very difficult to achieve the cuts we need to make to prevent that happening.”
The report highlights that meat consumption needs to be dramatically reduced in order to curb methane production. A low greenhouse gas emissions “planetary health diet” is mainly comprised of plant-based meals made of vegetables, fruits pulses, grains, nuts and seeds. Action also needs to be taken to tackle food waste – in Hong Kong alone, up to 40 percent of food in the city ends up in a landfill. Globally, an estimated one third is wasted annually. Alongside nation-wide legislation to provide infrastructure for composting and local organisations that work on “up-cycling”, everyday individual measures also need to be taken to avoid adding to the food pile in a landfill.
Policies also need to be put in place to improve agricultural efficiency, promote eco-friendly climate-smart agriculture and contingencies planned for weather changes. Governments therefore need to incentivise corporations and consumer demand to support a sustainable, low-carbon, high-productivity system based on small-scale farming, crop-rotations and organic fertilisers.
While findings of the leaked report come as no surprise for environmental activists and scientists in the field, it should serve as a catalyst for world governments and corporations to seriously reassess our current approach to food production and land use.
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