Researchers recommend a climate diet

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Eating less beef could help make global warming less drastic.

Food is essential for human survival. At the same time, current food production is helping to drive climate change. Researchers calculate that by 2100, this sector could contribute nearly one degree of temperature increase. But they also have an idea about what could be done about it.

A new study has produced disturbing results on the contribution of our food to climate change: By 2100, what ends up on people’s tables could contribute to heating the earth by up to 0.9 degrees Celsius – on top of the increase of about one degree since the beginning of industrialization. The good news: This value could be reduced by about half with targeted measures, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The scientists analyzed current research results and their model calculations. “Agriculture is possibly responsible for about 15 percent of the current warming,” they wrote.

Much methane comes from agriculture.
Because of the usual conversion of all greenhouse gases into equivalents of carbon dioxide (CO₂), the mode of action of the individual greenhouse gases has not been recorded precisely enough so far, they criticize. This is particularly true, for almost half of methane’s global emissions come from agriculture. Although methane largely decomposes in the atmosphere after ten years, it is more than 100 times as effective as CO₂ as a greenhouse gas. Because CO2 equivalents are usually calculated for a time horizon of 100 years, the short-term global warming potential of methane is underestimated, Ivanovich and colleagues write.

The research team, led by Catherine Ivanovich of Columbia University in New York City, projected the effect of today’s food system on global warming under five different population scenarios. Based on an extensive literature review, they created a detailed inventory of current greenhouse gas emissions for 94 other foods. They found that food production could contribute nearly one degree to global warming by the end of the century. According to the study, methane is responsible for almost 60 percent of the warming, while carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide account for about 20 percent.

Club of Rome wants to shrink climate conferences
The good news: “However, there is significant potential to reduce emissions through available changes in production practices, consumption patterns, and food loss and waste,” the team writes. More climate-friendly production of meat, dairy products and rice alone could help save about a quarter of the projected 0.9-degree temperature increase, they say.

Also promising, they say, is enforcing scientific dietary recommendations among the world’s population – such as low consumption of beef and moderate consumption of fish, poultry and eggs. According to the report, other measures include aiming for a carbon-neutral energy supply by 2050 and reducing food waste by 50 percent. All this could reduce the predicted warming by 0.5 degrees by 2100 – the increase would be 0.4 degrees instead of about 0.9 degrees.

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