Although the burning of fossil fuels is what receives the most attention, the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change warns that reducing the consumption of meat is essential to curb global warming, as well as measures against deforestation and in favor of the sustainable use of the land.
Efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of global warming will fall short without drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diet, warns the latest Intergovernmental Panel of Experts report on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations (UN).
The IPCC special paper on land and climate change, released today in Geneva, looks at the role of land management decisions in both reducing and adapting to global warming.
Among the measures are the need to preserve and restore forests, since they absorb carbon from the air, and peatlands, because they release carbon if they are dug up. Cattle raised in clear forest grasslands are particularly emission-intensive, the report says. Cows also produce a large amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, by digesting their food.
The document corroborates that balanced diets containing foods of plant and animal origin produced in a sustainable way "present great opportunities for adaptation and mitigation, while generating important co-benefits in terms of human health."
“We don't want to tell people what to eat”Says Hans-Otto Pörtner, chair of the IPCC working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. "But it would be really beneficial, both for the climate and for human health, if people in many developed countries ate less meat, and if the policy created appropriate incentives to do so.
By 2050, dietary changes could free up millions of square kilometers of land and reduce global CO emissions2 up to eight billion tons a year, relative to the current situation, according to scientists.
The researchers also point to the importance of the report for rainforests, where concerns are mounting about accelerating rates ofdeforestation. The Amazon rainforest is a huge carbon sink that acts to cool the global temperature, but deforestation rates are increasing, in part due to the policies and actions of the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
"Unfortunately, some countries do not seem to understand the urgent need to stop deforestation in the tropics," says Pörtner. "We cannot force any government to interfere. But we hope that our report will influence public opinion enough to that end. "
If left unchecked, deforestation could turn much of the Amazon forest into a degraded type of desert, possibly releasing more than 50 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere in 30 or 50 years, says Carlos Nobre, an expert climate scientist from the University of São Paulo, in Brazil.
The report warns that the land must remain productive to feed a growing world population. Warming increases plant growth in some regions, but in others - including northern Eurasia, parts of North America, Central Asia, and tropical Africa - increased water stress appears to reduce the rate of photosynthesis.
Therefore, the use of crops for biofuels and the creation of new forests - considered as measures with potential to mitigate global warming - must be carefully managed to avoid the risk of food shortages andbiodiversity loss, the report says.
It will affect food safety
Experts also emphasize that farmers and communities around the world will face heavier rains, floods and droughts as a result of climate change. Land degradation and expanding deserts threaten to affect food security, increase poverty and drive migration, according to the report.
About a quarter of the Earth's land surface appears to already suffer from soil degradation, and the climate crisis is expected to make matters worse, particularly in low-lying coastal areas, river deltas, drylands and permafrost zones.
Industrialized agricultural practices are responsible for much of soil erosion and pollution, says Andre Laperrière, executive director of Oxford-based Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, an initiative to make accessible to everyone. world relevant scientific information.
“We need a radical transformation towards global land use and a food system that meets our climate needs,” says Ruth Richardson, executive director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, a Toronto-based strategic coalition of philanthropic foundations. , Canada.
A special report published last year concluded that global greenhouse gas emissions, which reached an all-time high of more than 37 billion tonnes in 2018, must decline dramatically in the very near future to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and that this will require drastic action without further delay.
Governments around the world will consider the latest IPCC findings at the UN climate summit to be held next month in New York.