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Climate change threatening global food supplies, IPCC

August 8th, 2019

A circular, exacerbating relationship between land degradation and climate change is threatening global food supplies, the United Nations said today. 

It was one of many findings in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land approved by the world’s leaders on Wednesday in Geneva. 

When land is degraded, the report states, it becomes less productive, limiting what can be grown and restricting soil’s capacity to absorb carbon. This creates a cyclical relationship between degraded land and climate change.

The report stresses that climate change is affecting “all four pillars” of food security, namely availability, access, utilization and stability. 

“We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” IPPC scientist Priyadarshi Shukla said. 

At the moment, according to IPCC scientist Jim Skea, agriculture, forestry and other types of land use account for 23 per cent of human emissions.

“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,” IPCC scientist Hans-Otto Portner said. 

Sustainable land management, fellow IPCC scientist Kiyoto Tanabe added, would protect communities from detrimental impacts of soil erosion and landslides that will occur as a result of more intense rainfall in the future. 

Another solution the report presented was an increase in balanced diets “featuring plant-based foods such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emissions systems”, IPCC scientist Debra Roberts found. 

The report publication, Emeritus professor at NUI Maynooth John Sweeney told The Green News, represents an acknowledgement that climate change “can only be halted if we also make radical changes in how we use land”. 

“Last year the world lost an area of rainforest equivalent to the size of Belgium. We now know we face a biodiversity crisis as well as a climate crisis…. The world’s future population cannot be supported on a meat-based diet such as we have in Ireland,” Prof Sweeney said. 

And while the report does not suggest vegetarianism or veganism as such, it “does indicate that we in the developed countries, in particular, should consider reducing consumption of meat-based foods and emphasise more plant-based foods if climate targets are to be met,” Prof Sweeney added. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.

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