By now, you’ve likely read about the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, released last week by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report highlights how the rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil, risks jeopardizing food security for the Planet. That is planet with a capital P, meaning everyone.
And everyone—governments, companies, farmers and consumers—has a responsibility to help mitigate the pending crisis headed toward us, according to the report.
If you didn’t read the full 1,200-page report, here is a recap: More than 100 scientists looked at 7,000 studies to understand how human impacts on land are causing greenhouse gas emissions, how climate change is affecting our ability to produce food, and how changing what we do on farms and in forests can help fight climate change. They found that farming, forestry and other human land use is responsible for 23 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and that keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius will only happen if we reduce those emissions.
Do more using less land—and do so, sustainability
Like any good U.N. report, this one is not shy to offer recommendations. At the top of the authors’ list: Countries must commit to sustainable land use to help limit greenhouse gas emissions before it is too late.
The authors put out a strong call for greater use of new, more efficient, and sustainable agriculture technologies and methods capable of producing more food with less land, particularly food that is resistant to extreme weather conditions such as drought and flooding.
They called on the global community—with a keen eye toward food producers and retailers—to reduce food waste.They urged greater efforts to protect ecosystems that are already rich in carbon, like mangrove forests, rainforests and peatlands, and for more efforts at reforestation. And they confirmed the recommendations we have heard from numerous others: Western countries must do more to replace, or at least partially shift, their high-meat diets with plant-based alternatives.
“This report really underscores the importance and urgency of lands,” Will Turner, senior vice president of global strategies at the nonprofit Conservation International, told Fast Company. “What we do to protect and restore land this generation will affect whether our children, and those they share the planet with, are going to suffer. . . . We’re making some progress on managing lands and climate change generally, but we’re making incremental progress against an exponential problem."
But wait, there is hope in the IPCC report
Before you click to the next article, wait! It’s not all doom and gloom. While the scale of change must accelerate quickly, there are more and more examples every day of businesses working with nonprofit organizations and researchers to address the challenges identified in the report. We offer a few examples that will hopefully spawn many more in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Reducing food waste
According to ReFED—a collaboration of businesses, nonprofits and government leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste—every year, American consumers, businesses and farms spend $218 billion growing, processing, transporting and disposing food that is never eaten. More than 50 million tons of it are typically sent to landfills. Ten million tons are discarded or left unharvested on farms. Altogether, food waste consumes 18 percent of cropland and 21 percent of landfill volume.
Where to start? Why not with one of the world’s largest retailers: Walmart. It has long been aiming for zero waste—including food waste—in its operations in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2019, Walmart Canada formally committed to achieve zero food waste by 2025.
The retailer’s strategy includes strengthening its forecasting and ordering tools and training employees on how to better care for food and manage it at the end of shelf life. Walmart has also created a customized field-to-store network for highly perishable products, which is designed to reduce days in transit. In 2019, Walmart says it had 90 million fewer wasted units in its fresh departments in the United States as compared to the year prior.
Walmart is also jumping on the “ugly” fruit and veggie bandwagon at its Asda stores in the United Kingdom where, in 2019, it sold more than a million boxes of ugly produce, avoiding 1.5 million pounds of waste.
If food is no longer edible, Walmart says it will work to convert it to animal feed, compost or energy.
Using technology to improve crop yields
Illumina, a San Diego-based company that provides sequencing and array-based solutions for analysis of genetic variation and function, is working to address the challenge of feeding the global population. Through the use of its microarray and next-generation sequencing technologies, it is helping farmers identify the genetic markers linked to desirable traits, informing cultivation.
The company has started the Illumina Greater Good Sequencing Grant Program to help researchers around the world. The annual grand prize winner receives free access to Illumina sequencing data. One past winner, the Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa–International Livestock Research Institute Hub, is using Illumina sequencing to better understand and combat two viruses responsible for infecting cassava crops throughout Africa.
Tomorrow, we’ll discuss more examples of how the global food system is evolving—from the shift to what we eat, to how technology can save some of our most beloved foods, to how more companies are taking action to transform their supply chains.
Image credit: Jamie Street/Unsplash