Food Production Must Change Drastically to Save World

CC BY 4.0. Wikimedia – Fishbone Deforestation in Rondônia, Brazil, August 5, 2016 In the Amazon rainforest. Fires burn, clearing hectares of rainforest in preparation for farming and grazing.

Latest IPCC report calls for urgent action in the way land is used.

In order to fight climate change, we must do more than reduce emissions from fossil fuel use and transportation. It is crucial to change the way we produce and consume food, as well as manage land. In a new report issued by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists warn that the decisions we make now regarding land use and food production will determine whether or not global warming stays below 2 degrees Celsius. Once it surpasses that point, climactic instability will ensue.

The report was compiled by over 100 scientists who analyzed 7,000 papers. They found that 72 percent of the Earth's ice-free surface is used to support the growing human population, and that food production, forestry, and other human land uses are responsible for nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the words of Will Turner, senior vice president at nonprofit Conservation International (cited in Fast Company),

"This report really underscores the importance and urgency of lands. What we do to protect and to restore land this generation will affect whether our children, and those they share the planet with, are going to suffer... We can stop fossil fuel emissions tomorrow and still fail if the Amazon is cleared or Sumatra burns."

The report states that rampant deforestation must end and that carbon-rich ecosystems such as rainforests, peatlands, and mangrove forests, must be preserved. Planting trees and restoring forests are the most effective CO2-capturing technology we have so far and thus should become a top priority. Adele Peters writes, "[They] can sequester CO2 without waiting for the startups that are building the first carbon-sucking machines to scale up their technology."

Peatland drainage schemes should be halted; meat consumption must be drastically reduced, with a widespread transition to vegetarian and vegan diets; and food waste has to be minimized. From the Guardian's coverage of the report:

"The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds... presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Land use must be reassessed as well, with greater support provided to women farmers, improved access to markets, expanded access to agricultural services, and strengthened land tenure security. The report says that farmers are already feeling the effects of climate change, with decreasing yields, worsening droughts, heat waves, and flooding; this will reduce the nutritional content of foods, shrink yields, and drive prices upward.

Immediate action is needed. While consumers can make certain changes at home, such as limiting meat intake, it's up to businesses to source products from producers that do not engage in harmful deforestation, and insist that they do better.