The highest authority on the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has released AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023, a summary of five years of reports which sounds the alarm once more about the enormous impact that global food systems have on climate change.
Over 30 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions originate from the world’s agri-food systems, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The new IPCC report emphasizes that in order to prevent the worst of the climate crisis, the world’s food and agricultural systems require significant transformation.
The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather and climate events has exposed millions to food and water insecurity, is slowing agricultural productivity, and is costing billions of dollars in ecosystem damages annually, according to the report. The worst impacts are experienced by small-scale farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, and other rural people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Small Islands, and the Arctic.
“Small-scale farmers in the Global South are being hit first and worst by climate change—though they did not cause this crisis. The world’s poorest countries are also drowning in debt, with little ability to invest in building resilience to climate change. These countries urgently need support, climate finance and wholesale debt relief to build resilient, diversified food systems,” says Million Belay, a member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and General Coordinator for the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa in a statement.
The IPCC repeatedly points out that the cost of prevention is significantly lower than the cost of adaptation and disaster management.
“It’s an economic no-brainer,” says Bronson Griscom, Vice President of Natural Climate Solutions for Conservation International. “The barrier is actually financing everything upfront, to avoid a larger cost tomorrow. But there’s no longer much of any kind of rational argument against it.”
The IPCC report states that the solutions to the climate crisis are known and available, they just require implementation.
Notable mitigation measures related to food systems that the panel recommends are improving forest, cropland, and grassland management, as well as reducing food waste and loss. Reducing tropical deforestation has the greatest potential for reducing GHG emissions of any singular solution from any sector. Adaptation measures for agriculture systems include agroforestry, community-based adaptation, farm and landscape diversification, and urban agriculture.
The report also notes that Indigenous Peoples, and other traditional knowledge holders who are not classified as Indigenous Peoples, have thrived living sustainably with limited resources, in some cases for thousands of years.
The authors highlight the need to value these other knowledge systems to successfully respond to the climate crisis. Indigenous and local “worldviews and knowledges” are essential for realizing “locally appropriate, socially acceptable solutions,” the report states.
There have been five synthesis reports released since the IPCC was created in 1988— one in 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007, and 2014. Different lengths of this most recent one can be found here on the IPCC website.
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Photo courtesy of David Maunsell