A new report from the United Nations panel on climate change has suggested that human beings must drastically alter food production and consumption to prevent the debilitating effects of climate change. Dietary changes, featuring plant-based foods and sustainable animal-sourced food, could free up several million square kilometres of land by 2050 and potentially cut 0.7-8.0 gigatonnes a year of carbon dioxide equivalent, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in the report.
It said that humanity will face painful trade-offs between food security and rising temperatures within a few decades unless it cuts down emissions and stops unsustainable farming and deforestation.
“Delaying action … could result in some irreversible impacts on some ecosystems, which in the longer term has the potential to lead to substantial additional emissions from ecosystems that would accelerate global warming,” it said.
The IPCC, headed by a panel of scientists, opined that all efforts aimed at reducing the effects of global warming while feeding a booming population will count for nought if there’s no swift and sweeping changes introduced to alter how we use land. The report on climate change and land use shed light on the importance of preserving tropical forests as a barrier against future warming.
The report cautioned that mega-projects could risk food security across the world while maintaining that reducing emissions will play a central role in averting a disaster. The land-use report further warned that if there’s any delay in reductions – across industry, transport, agriculture and infrastructure – it “would lead to increasingly negative impacts on land and reduce the prospect of sustainable development”.
This report is one of the latest to be released by the IPCC, and in some ways, adds weight to the one it had released last year that did not mince its words when it said limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius – the optimal level aimed for in the Paris climate deal – would be impossible without a drastic drawdown in greenhouse gas emissions.
Aside from agriculture and its supply chains, the report says, which contribute around 37 per cent of all man-made emissions, present industrialised production and global food chains contribute to vast food inequality. It said that although there are presently at least two billion overweight adults, 820 million people still don’t get enough calories.
While calling for huge changes in farming and consumption patterns, the summary paper, however, stayed away from calling to limit meat consumption. It did mention credentials of ‘plant-based foods’ and their contribution to mitigating global emissions.