The Slatest

U.N. Climate Report Says We Need to Change What We Eat and How We Produce It—Fast

A dish with beef and rice.
A dish with beef and rice on April 18 in Caracas, Venezuela.
Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images

A United Nations report released Thursday hammered home what we’ve already been told: Climate change is threatening the world’s food supply. The latest in a series of climate reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, however, added scientific rigor and specifics to outline the severity of the problem. The report, compiled by 100 experts from 52 countries, described human-caused climate change and land use as drivers in global land degradation, which, in turn, compounds both phenomena. If the trend continues, the result for the food supply will be devastating, making food more expensive, harder to come by, and less nutritious.

“A half-billion people already live in places turning into desert, and soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming, according to the report,” the New York Times notes. “Climate change will make those threats even worse, as floods, drought, storms and other types of extreme weather threaten to disrupt, and over time shrink, the global food supply. Already, more than 10 percent of the world’s population remains undernourished, and some authors of the report warned in interviews that food shortages could lead to an increase in cross-border migration.”

The status report from the IPCC is part of achieving temperature targets outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement and finds that to meet those goals, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall by as much as half over the next decade. “While fossil fuel burning for energy generation and transport garners the most attention, activities relating to land management, including agriculture and forestry, produce almost a quarter of heat-trapping gases,” Nature notes. “The race to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels―the goal of the international Paris climate agreement reached in 2015―might be a lost battle unless land is used in a more sustainable and climate-friendly way, the latest IPCC report says.”

Despite the dire warning, the report does offer a path to avoid a food crisis: change what we eat and the way we produce it. “The report states with high confidence that balanced diets featuring plant-based, and sustainably-produced animal-sourced, food ‘present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health,’ ” Nature notes. “By 2050, dietary changes could free millions of square kilometres of land, and reduce global CO2 emissions by up to eight billion tonnes per year, relative to business as usual, the scientists estimate.”