Food for thought: The way we produce our food is not compatible with climate change targets

Greenhouse gas emissions from global food systems make up about 30% of the total emissions released worldwide. These emissions are mainly from food production and from land being cleared for this purpose.

To meet one of the targets set by the Paris agreement – limiting overall warming of 1.5°C by the end of this century – we would have to make “rapid and ambitious” changes to the way we produce and consume food over the next decades. Adopting a plant-rich diet, increasing our crop yields, and reducing food waste are some of the ways in which we can make this happen.

Projected cumulative 2020 to 2100 green house gas emissions from the global food system for business-as-usual emissions and for various food system changes that lead to emission reductions.

Meeting 2°C would be easier but only if fossil fuel and other non-food emissions are reduced as soon as possible. Achieving either one of the targets requires a tradeoff between food and nonfood emissions. Higher food emissions would require lower emissions from other sectors and vice versa. This will require extensive and unprecedented changes to the global food system as we know it.

Large-scale trials in China and the US show that changes in farm management can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing farmer profits at the same time. Maximising crop yields would eradicate the need to clear more land for agricultural use and improved infrastructure can reduce food loss and waste. Finally, food education and awareness campaigns have shown success in shifting consumers’ choices in many countries.

The challenge: to implement feasible, ethical and equitable policies that will be rapidly adopted but also will address the needs and customs of different countries and communities. One size does not fit all.

Read the article published in Science here.

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