WWF and others have been working on the issues of food and climate change for many years. The food system is one of the main drivers of climate change. However many people do not link the two.
Many climate change discussions focus on energy. When you talk to people about the most pressing climate issues we think of fossil fuels, frakking or transport. Very few of us think of the 21 billion chickens clucking around this planet or the cows and sheep dotted all over our hills. This is a bit of an oversight considering food is responsible for between 20% and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions (depending on whether you include indirect impacts such as land use change).
The livestock sector alone accounts for 14.5%, the same as all of transport. Based on business as usual if we continue to turn a blind eye to the impact of food, by 2050 the 2 degree Paris target will be met by the food system alone. In other words every other sector will need to drop to 0 emissions to meet the 2 degree and accommodate food.
Things are changing
The IPCC identified climate change as a significant threat to global and local food security. Climate change had already cut into the global food supply. One of the most striking impacts of climate change in the decades ahead will be declining yields in key crops, such as wheat, rice and maize. Fish catches in some areas of the tropics are projected to fall by between 40% and 60%. Other fisheries will move to colder waters; look at the Mackerel fisheries migrating to Icelandic and Faros waters, where fishing quotas are being increased as a result.
The IPCC has suggested that climate change needs to be reframed as a food security issue.
Thriving future farms and fisheries
Any food business that wants to thrive in a changing world will head these warnings and look to a new model; one that is less reliant on resource-intensive foods, oil, pesticides, fertilizers and grain. Not only will it became harder to produce these foods, it will be harder to ignore their impacts and it will cost more to produce them. These price increases will be passed on to customers, who will in turn demand low prices, or switch to cheaper food, ideally ones which require less inputs, such as plant-based foods.
We need to start thinking in a new way, looking at solutions in every part of the food system from agricultural practices to consumption patterns. We need to develop a system that is resilient and resource efficient, which supplies good food to all, not just calories. It must leave space for forests – the lungs of the planet – as well as soil, land and aquatic biodiversity, and healthy ecosystems.
We already produce enough food to feed over 10 billion people, and we are making huge strides forward in our understanding of agricultural practices, technology and diets. We just need to accelerate these practices and embrace the change.
The food system can mitigate some of the effects of climate change through such methods as reforestation and peat land restoration. Moving to more plant based eating is another great way to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We will need less land to grow feed or to graze animals all while enhancing our health .
We are all agents for change
The food we eat will change. What we are able to feed our children and grandchildren will depend on what we do about climate change, and whether we are rich or poor. Our choices matter, what we put in our baskets can make a real difference.
We have demonstrated leadership with food and climate change. For the last 7 years we have shown the link between what we eat and carbon with our Livewell work. No you don’t have to give up meat or pudding. Making sustainable choices is really simple and tasty. We are part of Peas Please which celebrates veg and makes it easy for us all to eat more.
We can have a varied plant based diet that helps us reduce our carbon footprint. Eating is one of our last connections to nature and wildlife. If think about it fish are the last wild food most of us eat. We make choices about food 3 times a day. If we make sure these are sustainable choices we can show leadership and take a huge step forward in tackling climate change.
At Earth Hour we have worked with chefs and restaurants to demonstrate how easy and tasty it is. Let’s take a bite out of climate change by what we put on our plates. Tell our leaders that we want action on climate change across the board.