Highlighting food systems is crucial in the fight against climate change

A new report reveals that climate action on food systems can deliver 20 percent of the overall global emission reduction needed by 2050.

Policy makers have failed to highlight national food systems as a key area in the fight to keep global temperatures from rising 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, a new report from the United Nations, World Wildlife Fund, and Climate Focus has revealed.

For context, the agriculture, forestry, and land-use sectors are responsible for up to 37 percent of all human-created greenhouse gas emissions and nearly a quarter of the world’s emissions in total, yet food reform is largely ignored as a mitigation opportunity by those with the power to enact tangible change.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, national leaders are expected to revise and resubmit their own climate related progress every five years. Therefore, 2020 presents the perfect opportunity to absorb the facts and realign our priorities – with the report suggesting that food related solutions can account for 20 percent of the 2050 emission goal alone.

To date, only 11 countries have NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) which outline plans to reduce food loss and waste, despite both issues accounting for 8 percent of GHG emissions, and not a single one mentions the notion of promoting plant-based diets. Thankfully, the report has outlined 16 specific actions policy makers can take to make a serious dent in what’s being described as the ‘Decade of Action’.

‘With a systematic overhaul, food production could be part of the solution,’ said Emma Keller, the head of food at World Wildlife Fund-UK. ‘In practice, this means using farming methods that work with nature, restoring degraded or deforested land, shifting to more plant-based diets and crucially, not taking more than we need.’

While the report largely outlines ways in which direct participants in the agriculture and shipping industries can become more sustainable; such as improving drainage systems in areas prone to flooding, investing in synthetic fertiliser, and shifting away from traditional monocropping, it also focuses on the role of consumers in making more conscious decisions with their diet. Shifting our diets toward coarse grains, fruits, vegetables and away from excessive meat consumption was cited as key to shrinking carbon emissions by upward of 8 gigatons a year.

More than 40 percent of the Earth’s surface is currently taken up by farming, and while food tech has certainly come on leaps and bounds – what with recent advancements in stem cell meat, regenerative agriculture, and synthetic vegetables – the livestock industry continues to hamper our progress at every turn. Development banks struggle to this day to weigh environmental progress against humanitarian work, and have invested $2.6 billion in industrial farming to provide impoverished communities with meat and dairy.

In an ideal world real financial weight would be put behind the food tech development sector, with stem cell meat and synthesised crops being less labour inducive and cheaper commodities to produce than livestock, but developing countries typically lack the technical expertise and scientific resources to jump on board with radical solutions like this.

All things considered, this report will embolden some institutions with the knowledge to make first steps towards being more socially conscious, but on the whole it serves as a stark reminder that if we stay on this ‘business-as-usual’ trajectory, we will spill over the tipping point before 2050.

We can all begin my keeping tabs on our own carbon footprints. If you’re not sure how, head here.

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