Humans must change nutrition habits, land use — United Nations climate report

James Marshall
August 9, 2019

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that efforts to limit global warming while feeding a booming population could be wrecked without swift and sweeping changes to how we use the land we live off.

But the report offered a sobering take on the hope that reforestation and biofuel plans alone can counteract mankind's environmental damage, stressing that reducing emissions will be vital to averting disaster. "The report has arrived at an opportune time as New Zealand works out how to play its part in tackling climate change and what it might mean for our agricultural sector and our economy" Dr Mackle said.

"Those food production systems are using vast amounts of water, vast amounts of grain that's on land that actually could be going to human consumption and actually that's the focus of the IPCC report is on how do we use the land most efficiently and New Zealand sheep and beef production land is not available for other food production systems".

Marx adds that we should try to eat local products as much as possible to decrease transportation emissions and support local economies.

Such dietary adjustments could contribute, according to estimates, to the release of up to millions of square kilometres of land and, per year, to a mitigation of up to 8 gigatonnes of Carbon dioxide equivalents by 2050.

He said DairyNZ was fully behind playing its part on climate change and supporting farmers to take action, but that the industry organisation needed more time to fully digest the report. Previous year it warned that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius - the optimal level aimed for in the Paris climate deal - would be impossible without a drastic drawdown in greenhouse gas emissions.

The IPCC is the world's leading authority on climate change.

Linda Schneider, senior programme officer of International Climate Policy at the Heinrich Boll Foundation, told AFP the report left "no doubt about the devastating impacts large-scale bioenergy and afforestation would have on water availability, biodiversity, food security (and) livelihoods".

It warned however that deployment at a scale needed to draw down billions of tonnes of Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year "could increase risks for desertification, land degradation, food security and sustainable development".

He also said 1.4m hectares of native forests on New Zealand sheep and beef farms were useful for offsetting emissions, and it was mostly land which could not be used for other forms of food production.

While there are now 2 billion overweight or obese adults, 820 million people still don't get enough calories, the report said.

It also says over a quarter of the food produced is either lost or wasted.

"But we do need to develop low greenhouse gas meat-producing systems".

"Not only is the way we're using lands worsening climate change", says Kelly Levin, a climate researcher at the World Resources Institute, "but the very land we depend on to stabilize the climate is getting slammed by climate change impacts, from fires to extreme storms, and that can compromise its ability to sequester carbon". "The people likely to be most affected live in Africa and South Asia, with almost 48 million residing in India alone", said the report.

Since the pre-industrial era, land surface air temperature has risen by 1.53 degrees Celsius, twice as much as the global average temperature (0.87C), causing more heatwaves, droughts and heavy rain, as well as land degradation and desertification.

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

While sharply reducing the number of livestock could have significant impacts by cutting emissions by billions of tons, that would require large-scale changes to what people eat. At 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the threat of a food crisis multiplies; even at 1.5 degrees C, wildfires are a grave threat. "Those are their words".

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