Emissions from the global food system could increase global temperatures by more than 1.5°C, according to new research.
A paper published in the journal Science by an international team led by the University of Oxford reveals that, although reducing fossil fuel use is essential to meet global climate targets, those goals are out of reach unless the global food system is also transformed.
The research shows that what we eat, how much we eat, how much is wasted and how food is produced will need to change dramatically by 2050, if we are to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
If current trends continue, emissions from food systems would surpass the 1.5°C target within 30-45 years, the researchers found, and may exceed the 2°C target within 90 years, even if all other sources of greenhouse gas emissions immediately stopped.
If other sources of greenhouse gas emissions reached zero by 2050, the 1.5°C target would be surpassed in 10-20 years and the 2°C target by the end of the century.
‘Discussions on mitigating climate change typically focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, for instance, from transportation or energy production. However, our research emphasizes the importance of reducing emissions from the global food system,’ said lead author, Dr Michael Clark, of the Oxford Martin School and Nuffield Department of Population Health.
‘The good news is, there are many achievable ways rapidly to reduce food emissions if they are acted on quickly. These include both raising crop yields and reducing food loss and waste, but the most important is for individuals to shift towards predominantly plant-based diets.’
The research makes clear that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food systems will require coordinated action across sectors and between national governments.
However, the changes would have additional benefits, for example reducing water pollution and scarcity, increasing biodiversity, and reducing the rate of diet-related health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.