Climate Change and Food
Food Production and the Environment
The link between our food production and climate change is inextricable. At every stage, farming, packaging, transportation, our food production contributes to climate change by releasing harmful gases into the atmosphere. The European Environment Agency states that “farming in particular releases significant amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gases”. Methane is produced by livestock such as cows and nitrous oxide is an “indirect product of organic and mineral nitrogen fertilisers” (European Environment Agency) and these greenhouse gas emissions have contributed to global warming. Shockingly, research shows that “34% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions are generated by food systems” (Forbes).
Effects of Climate Change on Food Production
While our food production systems contribute to climate change, they will equally be affected by it. Climate change is likely to worsen food security in the future, by reducing our ability to produce the same quantity and quality of food, and increasing prices of food. There are many factors which contribute to this, such as the possibility of water scarcity caused by droughts. Extreme and unpredictable weather conditions such as heat waves and heavy rainfall will make it difficult for crops to grow and thrive. Additionally, land may become unusable as the climate alters, reducing the amount of space available for food production (Future Learn). All of these factors will make food production more difficult and more expensive unless we curb climate change and provide solutions for these issues.
“Food security — the reliable access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food — is inextricably linked to a predictable climate and healthy ecosystems” - UN Foundation
The effects of climate change on food security are already taking place, with extreme weather conditions in many countries like heat and drought causing the production of maize and other crops to decline (UN Foundation). The state of food security and nutrition in the world report states that almost 690 million people (8.9% of the world’s population) experienced food insecurity or undernourishment in 2019. This statistic will only worsen as the effects of climate change increase and food production becomes more difficult and expensive.
There are several ways in which we can reduce the impact of our food production on the climate. One of the most important ways we can do this is by minimising food waste. This can be done by buying appropriate portions of fresh food to avoid having to throw away out of date or excess food (Carbon Brief). Additionally, a reduction in meat and dairy consumption could result in an “80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector” (UN foundation). According to the charity WWF, British farmers must reduce their meat and dairy production by a third in the next ten years in order to meet targets in tackling greenhouse gas emissions (The Guardian). However, many farmers defend the practice, arguing that unless the demand for meat and dairy declines, British farmed options are the most sustainable for consumers.
There are many other ways in which the agriculture industry can reduce emissions such as Agroforestry, which involves “incorporating the cultivation and conservation of trees in croplands or pastures” (UN foundation). This creates additional “carbon sinks” on farms (UN foundation). The Agroforestry Research Trust states that the purpose of Agroforestry is “to provide tree and other crop products and at the same time protect, conserve, diversify and sustain vital economic, environmental, human and natural resources”.
Additionally, better soil management can work to release less carbon and increase productivity, which in turn can reduce the demand for deforestation as more can be produced in a smaller space (UN Foundation).
About Agroforestry – The Agroforestry Research Trust
How Much Does Our Food Contribute To Global Warming? New Research Reveals All (forbes.com)
Our food system isn’t ready for the climate crisis | Food | The Guardian
Cut meat and dairy output by a third to save climate, British farmers told | Farming | The Guardian
Climate Change and the Future of Food | unfoundation.org
Impact of climate change on agriculture (futurelearn.com)
THE STATE OF FOOD SECURITY AND NUTRITION IN THE WORLD 2020 (fao.org)