When we think about fighting climate change, we tend to focus on the usual suspects – energy, transportation, and manufacturing. But there’s one industry we often forget about that’s responsible for about ten percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions: agriculture. And when you combine agriculture, forestry, and other land uses, you’re looking at about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.
The connection between food and land use and global climate change is the subject of a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body that assesses the science of climate change for the benefit of global policymakers. IPCC’s August 2019 report focuses especially on the impact of agriculture—with good reason.
Agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of the land we occupy and 70 percent of the water we consume. Food production often goes hand in hand with water pollution, deforestation, and loss of wildlife biodiversity. And by contributing to global warming, agriculture emissions propel a cycle where it will be more and more difficult to reliably grow enough food to nourish everyone. These impacts are significant, but we also have substantial and largely untapped opportunities for improvement.