UN experts urge food production reform to fight climate change

8 August 2019

Changing the way countries produce food and manage land is vital in reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the UN warned today.

Its latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change and land use highlighted the cyclical nature of climate change and land degradation and how human use - particularly agriculture - is impacting on both. 

The report warned that deforestation, factory farming, and high levels of food waste are contributing to climate change.

Agriculture, forestry and other land use produce nearly a quarter (23%) of GHG emissions, while half of all methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gasses, stems from cattle and rice fields. 

Deforestation, peatland degradation and increased soil erosion also cause a significant level of emissions, it said. 

Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts which can accelerate land degradation and threaten food supplies. 

Almost a third (30%) of food is wasted and occurs at all stages of the food supply chain from the household to the marketplace, the report said. 

“Food loss from supply chains tends to be more prevalent in less developed countries where inadequate technologies, limited infrastructure, and imperfect markets combine to raise the share of the food production lost before use,” it said. 

Poorly farmed land should instead be used to plant trees in order to boost land productivity and reduce emissions. 

The report called for land to be managed more sustainably to prevent degradation and  reduce the amount of carbon being released. 

In addition, diets should shift towards low emission foods such as grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds to cut methane production.

And governments need to improve support, education and access to credit for poor smallholder farmers to help them to farm more sustainably, it said. 

Speaking at the report’s launch in Geneva, Switzerland, Jim Skea, contributor to the report and energy strategy fellow at Imperial College London, commented: “Reducing food loss and waste can reduce pressure on land, improve food security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Vicki Hird, sustainable farming campaign coordinator for the Sustain food and farming alliance, said the report “makes clear that unless we rapidly change course on land use and farming, alongside reducing fossil fuel use, we will not be able to prevent the climate crisis.”

She added: “Climate change is already affecting food production and we face the prospect of increasing food instability and insecurity, poverty and ill health as climate change affects land and food production globally.”

This comes just weeks after the European Commission announced it had launched an assessment of possible regulatory measures to limit the impact of EU consumption on deforestation, while campaigners called for a ban on products linked to deforestation.

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