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Impacts of Paris Agreement on Global Food Production

While transportation gets a lot of attention when we discuss carbon emissions, the food sector is also a major culprit. Even if emissions from other industries completely stopped, the level of greenhouse gas produced from food and farming would still be too high to meet Paris Agreement goals, says a new study published in Science.

About one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food and farming. Between 2012 and 2017, food systems were responsible for about 16 billion tons of CO2 each year. By the end of the century, emissions from food production are on course to rise to 1,356 gigatons cumulatively. At this rate, we won’t be able to meet the Paris Agreement objective of keeping the global warming increase within 2° Celsius — or, preferably, 1.5° — of preindustrial levels by 2100.

The diets of people in richer countries are going to have to change if we want to bring down this level of emissions.

“These countries are primarily those that are middle or high income where dietary intake and consumption of meat, dairy and eggs is on average well above [health] recommendations,” said Michael Clark, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Oxford Martin school. He cited the U.S., Europe, Australia, China, Brazil and Argentina as areas with inflated meat consumption.

This doesn’t mean the whole world has to become vegan. But more Meatless Mondays are definitely in order. And maybe some Tuesdays and Wednesdays for good measure.

Food production contributes to carbon emissions in many ways, including clearing land for grazing, using artificial fertilizers and emitting methane via livestock. Food waste is another area that needs improvement, because when people waste food, they’re also wasting all the carbon involved in growing or raising it. More efficient farming practices, such as targeted fertilizer, would also help.

“There needs to be more focus and more effort to reduce emissions from the food system,” Clark said.

“Greenhouse gas emissions from food systems have increased due to a combination of dietary changes — more food in general, with a larger proportion of food coming from animal source foods — population size, and how food is produced.”

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