NEW DELHI: Dietary changes could free millions of square kilometres of land and cut global greenhouse gas emissions by up to eight billion tonnes a year by 2050, according to a landmark global report on climate change released on Thursday.
The land surface air temperature has increased by 1.53°C, nearly twice as much as the global average temperature since the pre-industrial period, said Climate Change and Land the latest assessment by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report has been written by 107 leading scientists from 52 countries, including India.
Keeping global warming to well below 2ºC by 2100 can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors, including land and food.
The global food system contributes up to 37% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, the concern is that nearly 25-30% of the total food produced is wasted, which is adding to the increasing emissions.
“Changes in consumption patterns have contributed to about 2 billion adults now being overweight or obese, but at the same time, an estimated 821 million people are still undernourished," it stated. Per capita supply of vegetable oils and meat has more than doubled since 1961, and the supply of food calories per capita has increased by about one-third.
The report recommended that significant emission reductions in the food system can be secured by reducing food loss and waste, and switching to balanced and diversified diets rich in plant-based food and sustainably produced animal-sourced products.
“In India, farmers are changing sowing and harvesting timing, cultivating short-duration varieties, inter-cropping, changing cropping patterns, investing in irrigation, and establishing agro-forestry," said the report, raising concerns over food security in tropical and sub-tropical countries like India, where crop yields and nutrient content may decline due to climate change.
The findings suggested that the maximum daytime temperatures have risen, along with night-time temperatures at some places in India, and the warming has reduced wheat yields by 5.2% between 1981 and 2009, despite adaptation. Increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 lower the content of zinc and other nutrients in 31 important food crops, including iron, which itself is a global public health crisis.
However, the impact could be less in South India.
Climate change has also exacerbated land degradation, with soil erosion from agricultural fields estimated to be currently more than 100 times (conventional tillage) higher than the soil formation rate.
Agriculture, forestry and other land use activities accounted for represent around 23% of total net emissions from human activities during 2007-2016.
“Land is central to the fight against the climate crisis and hunger. Industrial agriculture, deforestation and increasing weather shocks are destroying the land we depend on for food, with the world’s poorest hit hard. Governments must uphold the rights of people to their land and forests, so that poor communities on the frontline of the climate crisis are able to feed themselves now and in the future," said Aditi Sen, senior climate policy advisor, Oxfam.
The report would be a key scientific document for the upcoming climate and environment negotiations at the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in New Delhi in September and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Santiago in December.