Report doubles impact of farming’s contribution to greenhouse gases

A new global study on the impact of food production on climate change may help attitude changes in the important British market for New Zealand.

The report, Climate Change and Food Systems, released last week in Oslo, estimated food production was responsible for between 19% and 29% of mankind’s total greenhouse emissions, far above previous United Nations estimates of 14%, based on a narrower definition of farming.

Looking at emissions across the food system – including forest clearance, fertiliser production and transport, rather than just farming itself – the agriculture research organisation CGIAR says much more work is needed to cut climate change emissions from food.

“From a food point of view [the UN approach] doesn’t make sense,” says Bruce Campbell, who heads the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) research programme on climate change, agriculture and food security.

Many countries could make big cost savings by cutting emissions, he says.

“There are good economic reasons to improve efficiency in agriculture, not just to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

China, for instance, could sharply reduce emissions with more efficient manufacture of fertilisers, while the UK could cut them by consuming lamb transported from more efficient farms in New Zealand rather than raising its own sheep.

This part of the report was picked by the Mail Online, Britain's most-read news website, and subsequently reported by the New Zealand media with appropriate local reaction.

Global changes in diet, shifting towards vegetarianism from meat, will also help, CGIAR says. Growing crops to feed to cows, pigs or sheep takes up far more land and emits more greenhouse gases than producing crops for human consumption.

A separate report by the CGIAR climate programme indicates climate change is likely to reduce yields of the three biggest crops judged by calorie production – maize, wheat and rice – in developing nations in coming decades.

That could force some farmers to make radical shifts to growing more heat-, flood- or drought-tolerant crops, according to the report, Recalibrating Food Production in the Developing World.

More resilient crops including yam, barley, cowpea, millet, lentils, cassava and bananas could fill in the gaps caused by declining harvests of more sensitive crops, it says.

“The world’s agricultural systems face an uphill struggle in feeding a projected 9-10 billion people by 2050. Climate change introduces a significant hurdle in this struggle.” The world population is now just above seven billion.

The study also says that global warming, blamed by a UN panel of climate experts mainly on the burning of fossil fuels, means risks to food production far beyond fields.

“Every step of the food chain – from the seed to the farm to the cooking pot – is at risk,” it says.

Higher temperatures or floods could make it harder to store and transport food, for instance, meaning more outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.

“Food-related emissions and the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the food system will profoundly alter the way we grow and produce food,” says Sonja Vermeulen, lead author of the second report.

“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.”

Climate change may cause irrigated wheat and rice yields in developing countries to fall by more than 10% by 2050, the study says, while feeding livestock with grain will become more expensive.

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17 Comments & Questions

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So what?

Next study comes out will halve the impact ... or whatever.

Controlling food supply on the whimsy of the most recent of ivory-tower studies is a madness last seen on a grand scale in the Soviet Union ... and today in N. Korea.

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If food is responsible for 29% of emissions, then fossil fuels are not so bad after all. As well as public transport, we'll have to move to public soup kitchens and tax the use of private food.

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Why do they never report on any good effects like releasing vast tracts of northern land for production. Wine from Siberia anyone? Bananas from Moscow? Pineapple from Mongolia? Probably a bit overdone like their report but point made. However it all assumes UNIPCC is correct that the world is warming not cooling like some say for the last 10 years. Bottom line - just another unreliable report.

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Farming efficiency???
Livestock farming is the elephant in the room. Growing cereal crops to feed livestock is nonsense. Why graze cows where you can grow potatoes & other vegetable crops. There may be a case for farming sheep, deer & goats in hill country unsuitable for the cultivation of crops, but otherwise livestock farming has to be inherently inefficient on a global scale. This is the very area where mankind needs strong government.

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so you must be a vegan, boring , I like meat with my potatoes and leeks in chesse sauce!!

and thats why your proposition wont work

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Do you like children starving to death in countries where cereal crops are exported to feed livestock? Enjoy your meet & cheese a child somewhere is paying the price for your pleasure. I'm not a vegan just an honest global citizen

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Sanctimonious claptrap. Lets all eat potatoes and wear sackcloth and ashes......... and live in a hole in middle o' road...

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So what you really saying here Mr Gibson? shut down farming,shut down the fossil fueled power stations, take the cars and trucks off the road allow the country to revert to native bush, every one can live in Auckland.
how long before we all frezze and stave in the dark?

how long before that is seen as the answer? for it is you know!! - too many people consuming too many resources thats the real preoblem here

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#5, You hit the nail on the head. We are consuming far too many resources at a pace that doesn't allow them to regenerate. That is for those than can.

We think there is plenty of water because it always rains her. But what will we do when the patterns shift and the rain stops? Not completely, but certainly enough where our lack of reservoir infrastructure cracks.

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Just a quick question.

If we weren't meant to eat meat, why does it taste just so darn good?

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If we weren't meant to smoke opium, why does it feel so darn good? Is that your logic?

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"while the UK could cut them by consuming lamb transported from more efficient farms in New Zealand rather than raising its own sheep."

Now that is a statement that defies logic. How can you reduce emissions by shipping something 15000km versus simply changing your farming methods at home. At the end of the day NZ can grow grass, one of the lowest plant forms, which we humans cant' but ruminants can eat.

But as the report correctly points our, you can feed far more people who are vegetarians, than are carnivores. SImple fact that you do not get 100% protein conversion from plant to animal so what is lost in poop and greenhouse gasses could feed others if it weren't fed to animals.

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Another report out of Oslo, whoopy doo.
Facts : water vapour, is the largest component of so called green house gases. CO2 and methane irrelevant in the scheme of things. Even if it were, natures input to CO2 is 150 unit vs man's 5, every year, go figure. And who can control nature's contribution? No one, not even Al Gore, not even the famous RMA, not even Kennedy Graham, nor David Wratt. Not all the Kings men and all the Kings horses.....
The earth is not some kind of closed-in hot-house, so the theory has one huge hole in it, like broken glass on the roof of a glass-house.
No discerning warming for 16 years even by the UK taxpayer funded fear-mongers famous for crying "we can't find any warming!" .
So much hot air over this nonsense, makes so many look so stupid, far more stupid than those who believed in the Dutch tulip bubble.

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Keep your heads in the sand.

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But nobody mentions the real elephant in the room on climate change - the increase in people, If we reduce emissions by, say, 50%, how long before the world population doubles, and we're back where we started? Obviously what we need is a bloody war and a sickly season - and nature is doing her best to provide them. Go figure.

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How about birth control? Education is said to be the best form of birth control. The better educated statistically have less children.

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No, we just stop eating. That, it seems, is all we have to do. Then we will all die and the problem of man made emissions will go away!!

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