Nature and Environmental Writer: Katie Byng-Hall Investigates The Concerning UN Report And The Factors Surrounding It
Photo by Louis Moncouyoux
The UN has released a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which reveals that climate change is threatening the world's food supply.
The report, compiled by 100 experts from 52 countries in the UN, states that land and water resources across the planet are being exploited at an “unprecedented rate” for the sake of food production.
Global warming has a multitude of detrimental effects on the food supply chain. The warming atmosphere is boosting extreme weather conditions, soil loss, and land degradation. Rising temperatures are cutting crop yields and harming livestock. Higher CO2 levels are reducing foods' nutritional values.
All of these changes are having a drastic effect on food supplies, predominantly for people living in developing countries who can't afford the higher prices.
815 million people, 10.7% of the world's population, is undernourished, and this will not be helped by these agricultural crises.
Another UN study, this time by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, reveals that climate change is also affecting the world's biodiversity. Biodiversity can be defined as the quantity and richness of the species and genetics in an area, something which is currently being threatened.
The most significant reason for this decreasing biodiversity is the increased use of chemical pesticides and herbicides in commercial agriculture which is having an adverse effect on the quality of soil. Pollution can also be a factor that harms biodiversity.
In the last two decades, 20% of Earth's vegetated land has lost productivity due to decreasing soil biodiversity – the trend is now for uniformity, but this isn't good for the environment.
As well as being affected by climate change, the agriculture industry is a significant contributor to it itself.
Land is continually being repurposed to accommodate for food demand. The process of deforestation, as well as reducing trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, releases emissions equivalent to 600 million cars per year.
The process of draining wetlands to reveal peatlands is especially detrimental, with carbon dioxide normally contained within the earth being released at the equivalent of 6000 gallons of gasoline per 2.5 acres.
20% of all emissions from land-use changes come from the cultivation of peat-lands alone.
It is well-known that cattle produce an enormous amount of harmful methane when they are reared for meat and dairy, but the other sources of greenhouse gas production from the agricultural industry are often overlooked. With threats to the environment of this magnitude, combined with an ever-increasing global population, solutions must be found.
The IPCC report states that “changes [to the climate] threaten to exceed the ability of the agriculture industry to adapt”, but there are things to be done which may help to remedy the current calamity:
1. Reducing deforestation would protect biodiversity.
2. Improving soil health would allow it to store more carbon.
3. Improving agricultural intensification, namely increasing the number of crops grown in every acre, would mean less rapid loss of land is required.
4. Reducing waste of food but in production and in shops would lessen unnecessary demand.
5. Working to prevent wildfires would protect crops and reduce massive releasing of carbon dioxide.
6. Persuading people to eat less meat, specifically cattle products, would reduce releasing of methane, and deforestation.
These changes would be hugely difficult to implement, and they still might not be enough to prevent the food industry from harming the planet while providing for the entire population.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the world is currently undergoing a food crisis and yet, at least a quarter of all the world's food is wasted. Something must be done.
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