Leading researchers warn efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions will fall short without significant changes to agriculture, land use, and human consumption, according to the latest comprehensive high-level report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The summary report released on 8 August will inform the upcoming climate negotiations in New York.
Since land warms twice as fast as the planet, overall, the Earth’s land has already warmed more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the new report. Moreover, the cascading consequences of warmer air temperatures have already begun.
Unprecedented levels of warming are increasing both the frequency and severity of droughts, soil erosion, and wildfires. Heatwaves are longer, hotter, and more frequent. At the same time, crop yields in the tropics diminishing and permafrost is rapidly thawing near the poles. And the authors warn that water will soon become even more scarce in naturally dry areas.
The continued destruction of forests along with huge emissions from cattle and other intensive farming practices will only intensify the climate crisis — contributing to a vicious cycle. Taking immediate action to allow soils and forests to regenerate and store carbon, as well as cutting meat consumption and food waste, could play a big role in tackling the climate crisis, the report says.
The IPCC assesses the scientific literature to produce a comprehensive report on climate change every six years. Last year’s full report uncovered all-time highs in global greenhouse-gas emissions, over 37 billion tonnes in 2018. The previous report suggested that major changes would be required to keep temperatures to within 1.5C above pre-industrial climate change and avoid catastrophic climate change. And some would even argue the report did not go far enough.
In addition, the IPCC publishes regular reports — such as this one — on specific aspects of climate change. This latest report comes amid mounting concerns about accelerating rates of deforestation, partly the result of government policy changes in Brazil.
Deforestation to make room for agricultural activities and other forms of land use produced an equivalent of 9 to 15 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year between 2007 and 2016 – equating to around 25 per cent of global greenhouse-gas pollution annually. Of this, 13 per cent is carbon dioxide and 44 per cent methane.
“People currently use one-quarter to one-third of land’s potential net primary production for food, feed, fiber, timber and energy”, the report highlights. In other words, land is a scarce and precious resource.
The authors highlight the need for careful land management to help prevent food shortage and further biodiversity loss to feed the growing global population — expected to reach 10 billion by 2050.
One key takeaway: Eat less meat
The team of more than 100 authors from 51 countries suggest eating less meat — especially red meat — would be beneficial for both climate and human health.
“In a nutshell, we need less pasture [for livestock] and more trees”, says Prof Piers Forster of the University of Leeds and contributing author.
This is not the only takeaway from the report. Immediate actions from farmers, conservationists, and policymakers around the world are needed to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, to truly succeed, the hundreds of millions of people living in the developed world must change their diets. More specifically, plant-based diets could help mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.