The UN’s climate-change watchdog says our choice of diet is directly linked to land use and to its abuse, a key driver of the problem. Scientists claim a radical shift in how land is treated is crucial to saving the planet.
The report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that any efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and halt global warming may soon be futile without changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets.
It emphasizes that, while the earth’s population is growing, demand for food is growing accordingly. This tendency will only increase in the near future, but the planet’s resources are limited, with roughly 70% of land already being used for food production, textiles and fuel.
It claims that planet Earth may soon be unable to feed everyone.
The researchers note that the report’s recommendations could help governments prevent this grim future by reducing pressure on land and making food systems more sustainable to meet the demands of the globe’s growing population.
“Land already in use could feed the world in a changing climate and provide biomass for renewable energy, but early, far-reaching action across several areas is required,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, one of the leading IPCC scientists coordinating the report, stated.
The publication suggests that the best way to change the situation is to stop deforestation, optimize existing areas for food production and rehabilitate the two billion hectares of already degraded land.
“Unfortunately, some countries don’t seem to understand the dire need of stopping deforestation in the tropics. We cannot force any government to interfere. But we hope that our report will sufficiently influence public opinion to that effect,” Pörtner says.
The study also lays out a number of scenarios which attempt to predict how certain changes to land use may play out in the future. For instance, the IPCC authors revisit the reality that if global warming exceeds the two degrees Celsius limit set forth in the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, it is likely that fertile land will eventually dry out. This could put the entire food system at risk from disruption of food chains, a decrease in crop yield and poorer nutrient content in the greens and crops we grow.
Among other things, the report suggests that a personal effort will also positively affect the climate situation, suggesting switching to plant-based diets as a key opportunity for adapting to climate change and eliminating undernourishment. It strongly recommends reduction in meat consumption, as well as careful distribution of food in order to cut food waste.
IPCC’s report is the result of two years’ voluntary work by 103 experts from 52 countries. It is part of a series of publications by the IPCC all focusing on the best climate science ahead of 2020, when UN climate negotiations are scheduled. The next milestone, a report on oceans and glaciers, is expected next month.