UN Recommends Plant-Based Diet To Tackle Climate Change

Farming and deforestation is threatening humanity's chances of averting dangerous climate change scientists conclude | Credit Eduardo Frederiksen

Farming and deforestation is threatening humanity's chances of averting dangerous climate change scientists conclude | Credit Eduardo Frederiksen

Humans affect more than 70% of the global ice-free land surface, the report summary said, and the expansion of agriculture and forestry have contributed to emissions and loss of the natural ecosystems and wildlife.

Prepared by 107 scientists for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the Climate Change and Land report said switching to a plant-based could help lower emissions.

Forests, an enormous carbon sink, can be regenerated to cool the planet.

"Obviously you want to reduce emissions from land as much as possible". Currently, 25-30 per cent of total food produced is lost or wasted, leading to higher greenhouse gas emissions. Securing community land rights represents a cost effective and often overlooked strategy for climate action. With its forests, plants and soil it sucks up and stores around a third of all man-made emissions. It also accounts for almost half of the methane released. Land has a critical role to play in carbon dioxide removal, he emphasized.

"What instead this report is trying to do - and I hope is successful in achieving - is to, yes, lay out the consequences of inaction, but also then highlight the many opportunities we have for action and the co-benefits this has for livelihoods, for water".

A report released last month by the World Resources Institute finds that if current dietary patterns continue, an additional 593 million hectares - which is nearly twice the size of India - would be needed to feed the projected 9.8 billion people (the anticipated population) by 2050.

The climate crisis will also change what kinds of crops farmers can grow.

The IPCC met this week in Geneva, Switzerland, to finalize the report, meant to guide governments tasked with implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit climate change.

Piers Forster, a professor at the University of Leeds, said: "This important report shows we need to substantially change the way we use our land to limit temperature change below 1.5C".

Meanwhile, deforestation in places such as the Amazon and Indonesia has harmed the ability of forests to retain carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If you think about it this way, imagine around the globe all of the crop land out there - one-third of it is used to grow food not for people but for animals.

"Burning of fossil fuels should end as well to avoid "€irreversible loss in land ecosystem services required for food, health and habitable settlements", the report says. Land degradation is the urban development, over-farming and deforesting that humans are inflicting.

The report paints a better picture if actions are taken.

Changes in consumption patterns have already contributed to about two billion adults now being overweight or obese, while an estimated 821 million people are still undernourished. It states that 25%-30% of total food produced now is either lost or wasted and that if this amount could be reduced, it could take some pressure off of the need to convert additional land for agriculture.

If people change their diets, reducing red meat and increasing plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and seeds, the world can save as much as another 15 percent of current emissions by mid-century.

"There's a wide range of food systems that rely on meat, and many people rely on meat for protein", Cynthia Rosenzweig, a NASA climatologist and report author, told AFP. Solutions include increasing land productivity, reducing food waste and encouraging meatless diets.

"What we need to realize is that how we choose to live will have an impact on future climate".

But under all scenarios, one axiom held true: the higher the temperature, the higher the risk.

At 2C the risk of food insecurity ticks over to "very high".

He said the idea of closed meat production systems that aimed to capture emissions at barns were not a real challenge to New Zealand's meat production. Rising temperatures are causing deserts to spread, particularly in Asia and Africa, and the Americas and Mediterranean are at risk, the report says.

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