New IPCC report sets the climate change debate on fire

The yearly assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released this week, is setting the climate change debate on fire. The United Nations organization believes that unless there are immediate large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be impossible.

Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in at least thousands of years, and some of them are considered to be irreversible in the medium term. “Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming,” said Panmao Zhai, the IPCC Working Group’s Co-Chair.

Increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons, and shorter cold seasons are expected. The intense rainfall will lead to flooding, whereas other regions will experience severe drought. Sea levels will continue to rise, and ocean ecosystems will be threatened by a mix of warming waters, acidification, and reduced oxygen levels, warns the report.

“This is likely to lead to a dramatic intensification of this year’s catastrophes that are suspected to be linked to climate change. This includes the floods in Germany and Belgium that killed 209 people, the flood that killed 33 people in China, the second-worst drought in California’s history, and the heatwave that killed 815 people in Canada,” says Fernanda Vieira, Food Policy and Animal Welfare Global Director of Sinergia Animal, an international NGO that works to promote more environmentally friendly food choices to help fight climate change in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Preventing further damage

The IPCC now advises that strong measures to mitigate climate change must be taken to prevent further damage. If global warming reaches 2°C, there will be impacts on agriculture and health.

Researchers estimate that food production is responsible for more than one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, with livestock and fisheries accountable for 31% of this total. “To narrow down this footprint, drastic measures must be taken, including at the individual level. One of the best things one can do to reduce their impact is to reduce or eliminate the consumption of animal products, which are, by far, the most polluting staples we consume,” says Vieira.

Decreasing animal-based food production and consumption is especially important for the reduction of methane emissions. This gas is one of the main concerns presented in the IPCC report, due to the rapid increase in the emissions driven mostly by the fossil fuel and livestock sectors. Moreover, methane has 25 times the impact on the atmosphere in the long term than CO2.

When it comes to animal agriculture, CO2 is mostly emitted due to land use change – for example, deforestation for grazing areas or soy crops for animal feed – while methane is mostly emitted as a result of the livestock’s digestion.

Each kilogram of beef produced generates 60kg of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG); to make 1kg of cheese, 21kg of GHGs are emitted. This is 20 and 7 times more than to produce the same amount of tofu—a plant-based source of protein—respectively. While the production of 1kg of milk represents 2.8kg of GHG emissions, the production of soy milk emits only 1kg.