Food Systems Pathway to 1.5˚C

By Manu Bharadwaj
, 8 minute read

Quick summary: The emissions from the food sector today accounts for 29% of global emissions and if we continue to produce and consume the food the way we do, the emissions from agriculture and land use will consume 70 % of the emissions budget available in 2050 to limit the global warming to 1.5˚C. Food system transformation will require an increase in productivity while transitioning to regenerative productive practices, reducing food waste and shifting towards healthy diets.

Do you know that emissions from the global food systems could alone exceed the remaining carbon budget to keep warming less than 1.5˚C in the next few years? The emissions from the food sector today accounts for 29% of global emissions and if we continue to produce and consume the food the way we do, the  emissions from agriculture and land use will consume 70 % of the emissions budget available in 2050 to limit the global warming to 1.5˚C 

Our food production today largely depends on inputs such as water, land, energy, pesticides and fertilizers and is produced using unsustainable practices and  drives conversion of carbon rich ecosystems like forests and peatlands. Animal agriculture generates high emissions due to enteric fermentation and manure related emissions.

Broken food systems and climate change 

Today, 3 billion people do not have access to a healthy diet and about one billion tons of food are wasted every year. The climate change impacts of variations in rainfall, droughts and extreme temperatures are making the food systems vulnerable. 

The environmental and economic costs of the food system is estimated at USD 12 trillion a year, expected to rise to USD 16 trillion by 2050.

With the growth in global population, we need to feed a 10 billion by 2050. We will need 50 % more food from plants and 70 % more food from animal sources. Increased food production will cause further land-use changes for agriculture resulting in more emissions, reduced carbon sequestration and hence further climate change. Food loss and waste is responsible for 8 to 10% of GHG emissions. The forest, land and agriculture sector is at a high risk from the impact of climate change being the highest emitter of GHGs after the  energy sector. About 7 agriculture commodities have replaced 71.9 million hectares of forest. To keep the 1.5˚C target within reach, ensuring food security and transitioning to a net-zero future, cutting emissions from land use change is very important. Half of the land-related emissions and 10% of global GHG emissions are from land use change that includes deforestation and conversion of natural habitats. Agri commodity and processors play a critical role in implementing the transition to a climate friendly future. 

This transformation will require an increase in productivity while transitioning to regenerative productive practices, reducing food waste and shifting towards healthy diets. This approach will require sustainable food production on the supply side and dietary change and reduction of food waste on the demand side. 

Food Systems Transformation 

  • Shift to Nature Positive production 

Nature positive food production relies on sustainable and regenerative practices that deliver a climate positive future. Agroecological  approaches like regenerative agriculture, organic farming and agroforestry protect, manage and restore nature, while providing healthy and  nutritious food and  securing the livelihood of millions. The food systems need to be managed sustainably for the benefit of both nature and people. 

How would this be possible? 

Transition to effective input usage with renewable energy, water saving irrigation practices and improvement in crop productivity. Invest in Digital technologies for capturing weather data, traceability in supply chains and early warning systems for pest outbreaks. Promote investments in soil restoration for enriching soil fertility and soil health. Foster new business models and regulations for sustainable food supply chains. Produce healthy food keeping in mind the environment and biodiversity and livelihood for communities. 

  • Addressing Food Loss and Waste 

Food loss and waste results in over utilization of resources and  land and is a major cause of emissions. There is a need to have circularity in the food systems to reduce emissions and build resilient food systems. Measurement of food loss and waste and tracking progress is necessary. Management of the food supply chains with reduction in post-harvest losses, enhanced storage infrastructure should see a reduction in food wastage. Increasing consumer awareness about reduced waste generation and recycling should  be  effectively carried out. 

  • Transition to healthy diets 

A transition to healthy and sustainable diets can reduce the GHG emissions, reduce land-use and restore nature. There is a need to understand the food production and consumption in a sustainable way. Food should be made available in quantities with nutrition, addressing its true value. Creating awareness programs for consumers to shift to plant based diets and encourage consumption of healthy and sustainable diets. 

  • Food system Collaboration 

All stakeholders need to address the food systems approach to climate change collectively. Good governance, transparency and accountability in engaging stakeholders helps to address food system issues. It also helps in assessing and strengthening the institutional capacity and governance at the national level.

Agriculture roadmap to 1.5

The agriculture roadmap to 1.5 expects companies to commit to develop targets and implementation plans along with transparency and accountability. Companies need to look at supply chain traceability, set emission reduction targets based on science and report them annually. The different commodities in agriculture have different challenges. For example, the palm oil sector has challenges connected with deforestation and land use. Cattle is also a large driver of deforestation and habitat loss. 

Farmers and producers who are at the heart of our food supply chains need to be incentivized to address their livelihoods. Collective system across the commodity sector will be required with cooperation from government, finance and society. Governments should initiate well designed reforms through collaboration with the value chain actors including farmers, banks, researchers and other stakeholders to finance towards regenerative and sustainable farming for a better, healthier and resilient food systems 

The failure to take a food systems  approach to account for the greenhouse gas emissions from production, distribution, consumption and  disposal of food will deter our journey towards net-zero

Food System Network 

Food system activities at Production 

  • Reduced land-use change and conversion of natural habitats 

Emissions – Conversion of forests for food and  animal feed contributed to 2.67Gt CO2e, 19 % of GHG 

Mitigation – Reduced land-use change like  deforestation, forest degradation and peatland conversion has a mitigation potential of 4.6Gt CO2e per year. 

  • Effective Cropland management 

Mitigation- Soil carbon enhancement in agriculture has mitigation potential of 1.3Gt CO2e per year with crop management 

  • Reduced emissions from rice paddies 

Emissions- 11% of global GHG emissions come from rice cultivation 

Mitigation – Alternate wet and dry irrigation

of rice can reduce CH4 emissions by 90% 

  • Agroforestry systems 

Mitigation- Agroforestry and Forest management have a combined mitigation potential of 0.55-7.78 Gt CO2e per year. 

  • Reduced emissions from livestock 

Emissions- Enteric fermentation and manure management causes 2.9-5.3 Gt CO2e per year 

Mitigation- Reducing enteric fermentation has a mitigation potential of 0.12-1.18 Gt CO2e per year.

Food System activities in Processing, Storage and Transport 

  • Improved handling and storage of food 

Emissions – The losses in the supply chain due to poor storage and handling techniques account for 6% of global GHG emissions 

Mitigation – Reducing food and agriculture waste can contribute to the mitigation potential by  0.76-4.5 Gt CO2e per year 

  • Reduced food waste 

Mitigation – Food loss and waste has a mitigation potential of  4.4Gt CO2e per year 

Food System activities in Consumption 

  • Reduce food waste by consumers 

Emissions- Food discarded by consumers and retailers accounts for 9% of global GHG emissions. 

Mitigation- Reducing food waste can contribute to the mitigation potential by 0.76-4.5 Gt CO2e. 

  • Reduce consumption of emission intensive food 

Emissions- Livestock emissions account for 1.3Gt CO2e per year 

Mitigation- Shifting to healthy diets has a mitigation potential by 0.7-8 GtCO2e per year 

Technology drives the path 

With the increasing global population, farming ecosystem transformations are highly important to address the widening gap in food systems. Technologies like remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will play a crucial role in agriculture, from crop identification, isolating changes in cropping patterns to carrying out crop surveys. Crop specific maps are created by combining satellite image, survey data and from farmers. Farmers need to be empowered with the knowledge of technology solutions. 

TraceX’s Farm management solutions empowers producers and processors to manage their pre-harvest and post-harvest management. The blockchain powered solutions with end to end traceability and tracking of sustainable practices builds a healthy and climate resilient food system. 

Trace Carbon is a decarbonization platform that helps companies measure their Scope 3 emissions in their value chains. TraceX is also building a DMRV tool for bringing credibility to the quality of carbon credits in the voluntary carbon markets.

Manu Bharadwaj
VP - Growth & Strategy

VP of Growth and Strategy of TraceX Technologies. An engineer turned entrepreneur and a Traceability expert.

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