Agricultural Emissions to Push World Past 1.5°C of Warming, New Study Warns
Food production to meet modern human diets is expected to contribute enough emissions to push global warming past the 1.5°C target, according to a new study.
The analysis found that emissions from current global food systems, which are primarily focused on meat, dairy and rice production, could contribute at least 0.7°C of warming by 2100, or up to 0.9°C of warming with high population growth. The numbers are based on diets remaining consistent through the end of the century, although the study authors noted that demand for ruminant meat is expected to increase by about 90% by 2050, meaning these figures are likely underestimates.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global heating has already reached about 1°C by 2017 compared to pre-industrial levels. Climate.gov has noted that Earth’s temperature rose about 0.08°C per decade since 1880, until 1981, when warming happened at a rate of 0.18°C per decade.
Without any adjustments, food systems alone, from production to consumption, will push warming past the limits agreed upon in the Paris agreement. The 1.5°C target was set to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that about 75% of the expected warming attributed to food systems is associated with foods that are major sources of methane, including ruminant meat, dairy products and rice.
“I think the biggest takeaway that I would want (policymakers) to have is the fact that methane emissions are really dominating the future warming associated with the food sector,” Catherine Ivanovich, lead author of the study and a climate scientist at Columbia University, told The Associated Press.
The study authors noted that it’s not too late to reverse the trend. They estimated that more than 55% of the anticipated warming can possibly be avoided with a few key changes, including improvements in production processes, an adoption of healthier diets based on recommendations from Harvard University’s medical school and reduction in food waste at company and consumer levels.
About one-third of countries included in the updated Paris agreement have policies and plans in place that mention livestock mitigation efforts to meet the 1.5°C target, and 25 of the 148 countries include rice mitigation. The authors hope their research will encourage more countries to reduce agriculture emissions.
“Sustaining the pattern [of food production] we have today is not consistent with keeping the 1.5C temperature threshold. That places a lot of urgency on reducing the emissions, especially from the high-methane food groups,” Ivanovich told The Guardian. “We have to make the goal of sustaining our global population consistent with a climate-safe future.”
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