Sustainable meat production and reducing food waste – two of the opportunities for adaptation and mitigation of climate change, finds UN report

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/DisobeyArt
© GettyImages/DisobeyArt

Related tags Climate change global warming Carbon dioxide Food waste

Making agriculture greener and cutting food waste are key solutions in the climate fight according to the new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC, the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change, approved the report during its 50th session in Geneva, held over August 2-6.

The publication​ studied how land use contributes to climate change and how climate change affects the land.

The authors say that balanced diets consisting of both plant-based and sustainably-produced food of animal origin present major opportunities for adaptation and limitation of climate change.

The report outlines how human-caused climate change is dramatically degrading the land, while the way people use the land is making global warming worse. About a quarter (23%) of all greenhouse gas emissions are now estimated to come from land use: agriculture and forestry.

But the authors said that if land is used more effectively, it can store more of the carbon emitted by humans, as the land is also a great carbon ‘sink’ which absorbs heat-trapping gases out of the air.

Peat lands will need to be restored by halting drainage schemes.

Currently 25-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted – reducing those losses could free up millions of hectares of land, said the scientists. 

The report also says that the climate change is set to disrupt food chains across the world and increase cereal and food prices. Extreme weather, more intense droughts and floods, and rising temperatures will have negative impact on agricultural production. Central and Southern Europe could be increasingly degraded by droughts.

Frustration at some reporting of IPPC findings  

Commentators are frustrated at how some media outlets are reporting the findings of the IPCC publication, indicating that a switch to vegetarian or vegan diets is needed to save the planet.

Frank Mitloehner, Department of Animal Science, UC Davis, is one such commentator.

In an article, published in Dairy Herd​, he points out that the IPCC said we need to revisit our agricultural practices, that we need to be more sustainable overall globally in how we grow food: “And I totally agree with that. There are certain land use practices that are not sustainable. So, we have to think about how we do a better job.”

But he said the media, by focusing on eating less meat, is misleading consumers on what’s really attributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the US, of all greenhouse gases, the livestock sector emits a little bit less than 4%,”​ he said. “Contrast that to the 80% of those industries that consume very heavily fossil fuels: that's transportation, power production that you use, and industries such as the cement industry.”

'Agricultural sector needs to go on the offensive' 

He said the agricultural sector has to go on the offensive on the issue, showing how, instead of agriculture being the problem, agriculture is actually the solution.

Professor Chris Elliot from Queens' University Belfast echoes that in his tweet on the hot topic this morning:


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