Agricultural practices along with people’s diets will need to change as rising temperatures diminish the earth’s ability to absorb dangerous emissions, according to a new United Nations Climate report.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released early Thursday portrays the stark choices world leaders will face in balancing their food supply with the need for more carbon-absorbing plant life to combat worsening climate change.
“We are currently getting a free subsidy from nature,” Louis Verchot, one of the report authors, said of the earth’s ability to absorb carbon emissions in plants and soil. “But that subsidy could very easily be lost if we continue on current trajectories.”
A summary of the 1,300 page report highlights the heavy-handed role farming and forestry play in contributing to climate change. Both industries contribute a combined 23 percent of all human-linked greenhouse gas emissions globally.
The IPCC report was compiled by 107 experts from 52 countries and written cumulatively by 96 contributing authors.
The report reveals that changing land use to reduce emissions will be a focal point in keeping global temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is something the IPCC has previously identified as a turning point in the battle against climate change.
“Prompt action on climate mitigation and adaptation aligned with sustainable land management and sustainable development depending on the region could reduce the risk to millions of people from climate extremes, desertification, land degradation and food and livelihood insecurity,” the report read.
If changes in the agriculture sector are deferred, scientists said it could lead “to significantly higher costs.”
“Diets presents a major opportunity for reducing greenhouse gasses as well, because diets that are rich in plant-based foods emit lower greenhouse gas emissions than diets that are very heavy in red meat consumption,” Cynthia Rosenzweig, one of the report’s authors, said in a call with reporters.
She said diets that include more plants, nuts and seeds present a “double benefit” as they are healthier for humans and the environment. The report found that balanced diets such as those that incorporate coarse grains, fruits, and vegetables in addition to animal-sourced foods are more globally sustaining.