Food production contributes 29% of global carbon emissions

Agriculture and food production releases up to 17,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, according to analysis by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

The research stressed that the emissions “footprint” of food production must be reduced, and lays out how climate change will require a complete recalibration of where specific crops are grown and livestock are raised.

“Climate Change mitigation and adaptation are critical priorities. Farmers around the world, especially smallholder farmers in developing countries, need access to the latest science, more resources and advanced technology.

“This research serves as an urgent call for negotiators at the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha,” said Bruce Campbell, CCAFS’s program director.

CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, Frank Rijsberman, added: “We are coming to terms with the fact that agriculture is a critical player in climate change. Not only are emissions from agriculture much larger than previously estimated, but with weather records being set every month as regional climates adjust and reset, there is an urgent need for research that helps smallholder farmers adapt to the new normal”.

The research, Climate Change and Food Systems, assesses the entire food system’s emissions “footprint” – which in total is somewhere between a fifth and third of the greenhouse gases emitted by people on the planet.

According to CCAFS, this figure accounts for every aspect of food production and distribution, including growing crops and raising livestock, manufacturing fertilizer, and storing, transporting and refrigerating food.

It added that agriculture accounts for around 80% of these emissions, but the combined contribution of transport, refrigeration, consumer practices and waste management is growing.

“The food-related emissions and, conversely, the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the food system, will profoundly alter the way we grow and produce food. This will affect different parts of the world in radically different ways, but all regions will have to change their current approach to what they grow and eat,” said Sonja Vermeulen, the head of research at CCAFS and the lead author of Climate Change and Food Security.

Leigh Stringer

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