We all need food, but the growing population, current consumption patterns and global heating lay pressure on food production. The effects of climate change on agriculture are manifold and are already being reflected as reduced yields, extreme climate events, such as floods and droughts, water shortages, and increased quantities of pests and diseases, amongst other severe impacts. These risks disrupt global food security.
Food production itself is a significant contributor to climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the global food system accounts for 21-37% of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans. In this vicious cycle, emissions from food production have begun to threaten food production itself.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced. Both scientists and policy-makers are unanimous that global heating needs to be limited well below 2°C in order to avoid the most destructive risks and effects of climate change. The Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which entered into force in 2016, bounds nations with the aim of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Published a few years later in 2018, The Global Warming of 1.5°C report by the IPCC urges likewise. Meeting the 1.5°C goal requires halving global greenhouse gas emissions during this decade and reaching zero net emissions globally by 2050. To limit global warming to 2°C, global greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 30% by 2030, and zero net emissions should be reached by around 2070.
Climate action is needed by all sectors, and as food accounts for one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is crucial to adopt solutions to mitigate emissions from food production.
To feed the global population of nearly 10 billion people by 2050, we should be able to produce 50% more food than today. If continued with business as usual, this means that by 2050 agriculture and land-use changes related to food production would produce approximately 15 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. However, in order to limit the rise of global average temperature, the World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that the emissions of global food production should be decreased by two-thirds, (i.e. to 4 gigatons CO2e a year) by 2050.
Let’s face it – this is not an easy task!
Shifting to a low-emission food system requires profound changes in the way food is being produced and consumed. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to reduce the carbon footprint of food. This includes a shift to more resource-wise and productive practices both in agriculture and the rest of the food chain. Moreover, by eliminating food waste and transitioning towards sustainable and plant-based diets, especially in G20 countries, we can achieve major greenhouse gas emissions reductions. With everyone’s contribution and close cooperation throughout the food chain, we have a chance to decarbonise food production for reversing global heating.