Land use and climate change

Land use - grass and trees

A major UN report, Creating a Sustainable Food Future, addressing land use and climate change, states that the high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fueling global warming. It’s also making it hard to grow enough food for an expanding population.

The document, prepared by 107 scientists, says that if land were used more effectively, it could store more of the carbon emitted by humans. They also said that more people could be fed using less land if individuals cut down on eating meat. It’s estimated that 12 people could be fed a plant-based diet using the equivalent land for one person’s diet centered on meat. This equates to fewer trees cut or burned down to provide land to produce food.

The Earth’s land surface, and the way it is used, forms one of the foundations of human society and the global economy, but we are reshaping it in dramatic ways. Soil is sometimes neglected as part of the climate system, but it’s the second largest store of carbon after the oceans.

In order to feed the predicted 9.8 billion people on Earth in 2050, the world will need to produce 56 per cent more food compared to 2010. If the level of meat and dairy consumption rises in line with current food habits, six million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) of forests would need to be converted to agriculture – an area twice the size of India. Two thirds would be changed to pastureland, with the final third being used for crops most of which would be used for animal feed, according to the report. The loss of carbon-dioxide-absorbing trees that are being cut down, further adds to climate change.

Johan Rockstrom, former director of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Change Impact Research, said: ‘To have any chance of feeding ten billion people in 2050 within planetary boundaries, we must adopt a healthy, plant-based diet, cut food waste, and invest in technologies that reduce environmental impacts.’

Let’s hope this report provides a wake-up call to farmers and policy makers worldwide.