Climate Change

Global food emissions alone can push warming beyond 1.5°C

Around 80% of future warming from food consumption will be from meat, rice and dairy products

By Shagun
Published: Thursday 09 March 2023
Photo: iStock

Food emissions alone could push global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels if the current dietary patterns and agricultural production practices continue through the end of the century, according to a new study.

The world can warm up by by 0.7-0.9°C (±0.2) from present levels due to global food consumption, depending on the population growth trend, the report published in Nature Climate Change journal March 6, 2023 showed. 

This additional warming is enough to surpass the 1.5°C global warming target and approach the 2°C threshold established by the Paris Agreement. 

Around 80 per cent of future warming from food consumption will be from meat, rice and dairy products — notably high-methane food groups, the researchers found. 

Methane is responsible for a majority of the projected increase in global temperature, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of the warming associated with food consumption by the end of the century. 

About 20 per cent of the end-century warming is attributed each to carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, according to the research done by scientists from Columbia University, University of Florida and Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental organisation based in the United States. 

Consumption of dairy and meat was found to be responsible for more than half of the warming by 2030 and through to 2100. Rice contributed to 19 per cent of end-of-century warming and vegetables, grains, seafood, oils, beverages, eggs, fruit and all other uncategorised food items each contributed five per cent or less. 

The projected contributions could be an underestimate, the authors said, given the demand for ruminant meat was expected to increase by over 90 per cent by 2050 and the consumption of all animal products was projected to grow by 70 per cent. 

“This growth far exceeds that proportional to projected population growth (an increase from 8billion people to nearly 10billion people by mid-century), as future economic development around the world is expected to facilitate the purchase of more expensive goods such as meat and dairy items,” the report read.

“Given the relatively high emissions intensity of animal products compared with other food sources, our projected warming is likely an underestimate,” it added.

The findings also highlight the need to focus on emissions reductions from the production, consumption and waste of these food groups. 

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