Food, agriculture and forestry must be transformed to curb global warming, says UN

A general view shows part of Europe’s last ancient forest, the Bialowieza Primeval Forest July 23, 2009. REUTERS/Peter Andrews/File Photo

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  • So far, governments have done too little to help
  • Climatologists had proposed switching from meat
  • Opted for a balanced diet recommendation instead

April 5 (Reuters) – Protecting forests, altering diets and modifying farming methods could contribute around a quarter of the greenhouse gas reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, according to the panel on United Nations climate.

But the changes are unlikely to happen unless governments act to stimulate them, according to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released on Monday. Read more

“We are in the early stages of developing climate and agriculture policy, but we need to start by recognizing the urgency of the challenge,” said Ben Lilliston, director of rural strategies and climate change at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “The IPCC warns that governments so far have not been up to the task.”

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About 22% of global greenhouse gas emissions came from agriculture, forestry and other land-use sectors in 2019, the report said, with about half of that coming from deforestation. Much of the rest came from burning fossil fuels.

Mitigation actions in these sectors – including protecting forests from clear-cutting, carbon sequestration in agricultural soils and more sustainable diets – can provide up to 20% to 30% reductions in emissions needed to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above -industrial levels.

Scientists say this is the threshold at which climate change risks spiraling out of control.

“Indigenous peoples, private forest owners, local farmers and communities manage a significant portion of the world’s forests and agricultural lands and play a central role in land-based mitigation options,” the report says.

While the changes required in the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors – dubbed AFOLU by climate scientists – would not cost much to implement, there is little momentum until now. now to trigger them, according to the report.

A lack of institutional and financial support, uncertainty about long-term land management trade-offs and the dispersed nature of private land holdings have so far hampered implementation, he said.

“The land provides us with so much, for example, food, nature and our livelihoods,” said Diána Ürge-Vorsatz, vice-chair of the IPCC working group that authored the report. “These competing demands must be carefully managed.”

A major hurdle is that dictating diet is divisive.

The summary of the IPCC expert panel’s initial report included a recommendation for consumers to switch to plant-based diets and reduce meat consumption, according to a draft seen by Reuters.

But the final version of the summary instead included a recommendation for balanced diets that include sustainably produced animal products alongside plants like grains and legumes.

Asked about the changes, Joanna House, a land use expert at the University of Bristol and author of the report, said she could not explain why the changes had been made, but said the issue of dietary changes was complex.

“If meat is produced sustainably, it can be low-carbon and support soil carbon and nutrients,” she said. “If produced unsustainably, especially in intense systems requiring large amounts of animal feed that drive deforestation, it can result in large net emissions.”

Global demand for livestock products is rising, a headwind for reducing emissions from agriculture, according to the report.

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Reporting by Leah Douglas; additional reporting by Gloria Dickie; edited by Barbara Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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