Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening the global food supply and the way industries produce food could make the effects even worse, according to a new United Nations report.
“The cycle is accelerating,” NASA climate scientist and report co-author Cynthia Rosenzweig, a co-author of the report told The Associated Press. “The threat of climate change affecting people’s food on their dinner table is increasing.”
The scientists said there is still hope to stop the effects, but people will need to change the way they eat and grow food and manage forests.
The report, compiled by more than 100 scientists and unanimously approved by the UN’s member states, looked at problems and solutions to the warming of land mass, which is warming at twice the rate of the planet as a whole.
“The way we use land is both part of the problem and also part of the solution,” French climate scientist Valerie Masson-Delmotte told reporters. “Sustainable land management can help secure a future that is comfortable.”
“We don’t want a message of despair,” London climate scientist Jim Skea said at a press conference. “We want to get across the message that every action makes a difference.”
But Koko Warner, a manager in the U.N. Climate Change secretariat, told The AP that the report paints a dire picture.
“I’ve lost a lot of sleep about what the science is saying. As a person, it’s pretty scary,” Warner said. “We need to act urgently.”
Food supply under threat:
According to the report, climate change has also worsened land degradation, which causes permafrost to thaw and leaves forests vulnerable to drought, fire, and disease. The effect has also reduced the number of species on the planet.
“The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases,” the report said.
“The potential risk of multi-breadbasket failure is increasing,” Rosenzweig told The AP. “Just to give examples, the crop yields were effected in Europe just in the last two weeks.”
Along with reduced yields, higher levels of carbon have shown to reduce protein, zinc, and iron in foods like wheat.
Report offers solutions:
The report detailed numerous steps that can be undertaken to combat the effects of climate change.
The report said that better farming practices, like no-till agriculture and better fertilizer applications, can reduce carbon emissions by 18% by 2050.
If people change their diet by reducing the amount of red meat and increasing the amount of plants they eat, the world can reduce carbon emissions by another 15% by 2050.
Reducing food waste can also have an impact.
“Currently 25%-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted,” the report said, adding that food waste accounted for 8-10% of carbon emissions between 2010 and 2016.
When accounting for transporting food, energy costs, and packaging, the agriculture and forestry industries account of 37% of emissions, more than even cars, trucks, boats, and planes combined.
“This additional gift from nature is limited. It’s not going to continue forever,” study co-author Luis Verchot told the AP. “If we continue to degrade ecosystems, if we continue to convert natural ecosystems, we continue to deforest and we continue to destroy our soils, we’re going to lose this natural subsidy.”