IPCC report: plant-based diets for the planet
KEY FINDINGS: The IPCC’s new report on tackling climate change published this week takes a deep look at agriculture, food systems, forests and diets – from the emissions they cause to the crucial role they play in mitigation. According to the report, nearly a quarter (22%) of global greenhouse gas emissions came from agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) in 2019, with deforestation contributing about half. Food systems are associated with roughly 42% of global GHG emissions, even as “there is still widespread food insecurity and malnutrition”, the report found. It noted that food waste alone contributed to 8-10% of emissions between 2010 and 2016 and cautioned that “it is crucial to focus on high-emitting individuals and groups within countries”, given the role of global food supply chains. Methane emissions increased between 2010 and 2019 – mainly courtesy of the digestive process of cows and sheep and manure production – as did nitrous oxide emissions, which have been “dominated by agriculture and fertiliser use”.
At a household carbon footprint level, the food sector “dominates in all income groups”, according to the report, accounting for 28% on average – more than the footprint for energy. Food production accounts for 48% of the negative impacts
on land and 70% on water resources, the IPCC said. These impacts increase with incomes, as richer homes consume more meat, dairy and processed food. Of all foods, meat from cows and sheep is the most emissions-heavy, but not all beef is the same – emission estimates vary vastly from cows reared in factory farms versus those reared on rangelands or mountain pastures. Shifting consumption towards plant-based diets has “high mitigation potential”, states the report, and sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets for all are within reach, the authors said. But it is not just diets – plant-based alternatives, cultured meat, hydroponic and aquaponic agriculture are all part of a host of “emerging technologies” that the IPCC authors suggested could help with “substantial reduction” in emissions from food production.
STANDING FORESTS: As of 2020, 4bn hectares of land globally were covered in forests. While levels of deforestation may have declined between 2010 and 2019, the world continued to lose more carbon-critical tropical forests, with gains in forest cover in temperate and boreal regions. Of all emission-cutting measures from now to 2050 related to land, protecting and restoring forests and other ecosystems could have the highest potential, the IPCC said. Of all factors that kept deforestation levels low, the report found that protected areas, payment for ecosystem services and the presence of Indigenous people were the most consistently successful. By contrast, higher crop prices, close proximity to agriculture, urban areas and roads were consistently associated with higher levels of deforestation.
PARKS AND LAND RECS: The report estimated that “global urban trees sequester 217m tonnes of carbon annually” and that urban greening can reduce energy and health bills, while delivering multiple benefits, from cooling to buffering weather extremes. It cautioned against creating high-density housing without “green and open spaces”, which could intensify the heat-island effect in cities and impact the urban poor. Tackling climate change could improve crop productivity, but large-scale, land-intensive climate measures could create food insecurity and “exacerbate trade-offs with the conservation of habitats, adaptation, biodiversity and other services”. The report also pointed to the funding gap for land-based climate measures. The world currently spends $700m on them each year, against the $400bn needed if the land sector is to deliver up to 30% of the CO2 cuts needed to meet climate targets, the authors said. This is a sum that is “smaller than current subsidies provided for agriculture and forestry”.
Nature talks end in deadlock
BIODIVERSITY STILL ON BRINK:
Countries have left key UN nature talks in Geneva without reaching consensus on a global deal to reverse nature loss. Negotiators from 164 countries worked into the night for two weeks to try to reach consensus on the vast array of targets to be included in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) – often referred to as the “Paris Agreement for nature”. As Carbon Brief
reported in an in-depth summary of the talks, the ultimate aim of the framework is for people to “live in harmony with nature” by 2050. Many of its targets will have implications for efforts to tackle climate change, ranging from the role for nature-based climate solutions to the removal and redirection of fossil fuel subsidies. Countries are due to adopt the GBF at COP15, the UN biodiversity summit expected to take place in just a few months in Kunming, China. Countries have agreed to meet again in Nairobi in June to try to iron out issues ahead of COP15.
HEADING FOR COPENHAGEN? Observers said the talks moved at a “glacial pace”. Some raised concerns that countries are “heading for Copenhagen” – a reference to the 2009 climate summit that was widely perceived to have ended in failure. But what was behind the slow progress? One observer familiar with both climate and biodiversity talks told Carbon Brief that countries had “kicked the can down the road”, leaving the majority of the substantive issues in the GBF for COP15. Other observers pointed to a lack of general leadership from COP15 host country China. However, some said parties were not entirely to blame for the slow progress, pointing to the two-year pause of in-person discussions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the shadow cast by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as possible contributing factors.
CB SPEAKS TO UN NATURE CHIEF:
One figure urging parties to find solutions is Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the Tanzanian lawyer and diplomat who is the executive secretary of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). At the sidelines of the talks, Carbon Brief
spoke to Mrema about progress towards COP15, the interlinks between climate change and biodiversity loss and whether countries will come together to reverse nature loss. Comparing the GBF to the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, Mrema said: “If we succeed – not me particularly, but if the parties succeed – then it will be the Paris Agreement [for nature] in terms of its importance, in terms of its transformative nature, in terms of its ambition.”
Q&A on Ukraine food crisis
: One of the largest global ramifications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be its impacts on food security. Ukraine, whose flag is seen as representing “blue skies over fields of wheat”, is the fourth-largest supplier of wheat and corn in the world. It contributes nearly 12%
to the world’s wheat exports and 16%
of corn exports.
Carbon Brief’s Anastasiia Zagoruichyk
has spoken to Taras Vysotskyi – Ukraine’s first deputy minister of agrarian policy and food – about how the conflict has impacted agricultural production. During their Skype call, Vysotskyi laid out the current situation with wheat and oil reserves in Ukraine and the prospects for exports:
“As of today, Ukraine has 6m tonnes of wheat, of which 2.5-3m tonnes are food [the rest is fodder wheat]. Currently, the annual consumption, which is 4m tonnes of food wheat, is in stock, although the new wheat harvest will be in three months, so these stocks are sufficient. The stock of sunflower seeds is sufficient to ensure seven years of oil consumption.
“Currently, only corn, sunflower seeds, oil and barley are allowed to be exported. Fodder wheat is available after obtaining a licence, but food wheat is stored for domestic reserve. We have to wait for the harvest, see what we can collect and then resume exports.”
Vysotskyi told Carbon Brief that “about 15% of agricultural machinery is lost”, adding:
“Currently, there is no possibility of exporting from the ports of Odesa and Mykolaiv, where the main facilities were located. Exports are made by rail across borders with EU countries, such as Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. Also partly through highways crossings with EU countries.”
When asked about the priority of export destination countries, the deputy minister replied that “we do not have priorities, we are ready for everyone, where there will be logistics for receiving a cargo”.