Here’s What the Latest IPCC Report Says on Mitigation From Food Systems

On 4th April, the world’s leading climate scientists released the global assessment of climate change mitigation progress and pledges. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC)Working Group III report, calls for mitigation from Food Systems at all stages. 50by40 reviewed the key opportunities for the transformation of food systems presented in the report. 

  1. Mitigation from Food Systems is required at all stages: Getting the most out of the food systems’ mitigation potential necessitates changes at all levels, from producer to consumer and waste management. This can be enabled through integrated policy. Technological, social, or institutional innovations that start as niches, might lead to significant transformations, including changes in social norms. Food systems are responsible for 23-42 per cent of global GHG emissions, even with widespread food insecurity and malnutrition. Integrated food policy packages based on market-based, administrative, informative, and behavioural policies can reduce costs, address multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and increase acceptance among stakeholders and civil society.
  1. The greatest shift would come from switching to plant-based diets: Even if all fossil fuel emissions were immediately eliminated, food system emissions alone would jeopardise the 1.5ºC target. A transition to more plant-based foods and reduced animal-based foods, particularly from ruminant animals, could reduce pressure on forests and land used for feed, and support planetary health. Such a transition will also help prevent malnutrition (such as undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, and obesity) in developing countries. Other benefits include improved health and reduced mortality from diet-related non-communicable diseases. Both demand-side and supply-side strategies are needed for a dietary shift to plant-based ‘conventional’ foods. To significantly reduce GHG emissions, such dietary changes must overcome socio-cultural, knowledge, and economic barriers. On the other hand, the transition to sustainable healthy diets could hurt the agricultural sector’s economic stability. As a result, effective food-system-oriented reform policies that integrate agriculture, health, and the environment are required to move toward sustainable and healthy diets.
  1. A Food Systems Approach is required for assessing GHG emissions: Agriculture and fisheries produce crops and animal-sourced food, which are partially processed in the food industry before being packaged, distributed, retailed, cooked, and consumed. Each step is linked to resource use, waste generation, and GHGs. A food systems approach can help identify critical areas and novel and alternative mitigation strategies on both the supply and demand sides of the food system. Mitigation measures must be tailored to the specific situation. Both mitigation and adaptation can be aided by international cooperation and global food trade governance. In cropland and grazing production and food processing, storage, and distribution, there is room for emissions reduction. Emerging options such as plant-based alternatives to animal food products and food from cellular agriculture are gaining traction. Still, their mitigation potential remains unknown and is dependent on the GHG intensity of associated energy systems due to their relatively high energy requirements. Dietary changes can reduce GHG emissions while improving health in people who consume higher calories and animal foods. Food loss and waste reductions can help reduce GHG emissions even more. 
  1. Emerging food technologies have mitigation potential: Emerging food technologies such as cellular fermentation, cultured meat, plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods, and controlled environment agriculture can significantly reduce direct GHG emissions from food production. These technologies have lower environmental, water, and nutrient footprints and address animal welfare concerns. As some emerging technologies are relatively more energy-intensive, achieving the full mitigation potential requires access to low-carbon energy.
  1. Financial mechanisms needed for food systems transitions: Taxes can improve dietary nutritional quality and reduce GHG emissions from food systems, especially when combined with other policies that increase access and distribution of nutritious food. Taxes applied at the consumer level are more effective than levying taxes on the production side. At the same time, trade liberalisation is an essential component of sustainable food systems and one of the elements required for achieving sustainable development as it can shift pressure to regions where resources are less scarce. There is a need to develop comparative studies that enable the assessment of spatial variabilities and scalability of food system transitions. Currently, the role of private industry and corporate business is scarcely researched, even though they could play a significant role in food system transitions.

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