When we think of global warming most of us think about fossil fuels. Less obvious is the environmental damage of our breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our passion for meat leads to over 60 billion land animal grazing the vast majority of our agricultural lands. Livestock emissions such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide account for 18-20% of greenhouse gases annually, second behind only fossil fuels. If you were to include other food related emissions such as food waste and deforestation then what we eat could be the number one cause of global warming.
The most high profile area in which changes in food production are taking place because of climate are alternative meat and veganism. Unicorns such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have emerged here. Cell based companies that are making lab-grown foods to address climate change, food shortages and animal welfare are growing and of interest to us at Weclimate. Agtech is an exciting area as agriculture is one of the last of the large industrites to adopt new technologies and business models. Precision farming startups using drones, satelites, robots and mass scale data collection to help farmers make sure that each plant gets the right amount of water and fertiliser when its needed is particularly exciting.
Just as meat is being grown in labs, farming is going indoors. This is known as vertical farming, crops are grown not in a flat field or greenhouse but on shelves one above the other in converted warehouses or shipping containers. Vertical farming reduces food miles and the need to import crops, something that is valuable in the post Covid world. There are still challenges with vertical farming, particularly the need to reduce energy due to the need of artificial lighting and climate-control systems.
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If 50% of food waste is reduced by 2050, avoided emissions would be in the region of 26.2 gigatons. Reducing waste also means an avoidance of deforestation preventing an additional 44.4 gigatons of emissions. Presently 1/3 of food in the developed world is thrown out by consumers.
Silvopasture is practiced on roughly 350m acres of land globally. If adoption increases to 550 million acres by 2050 out of the 3 billion acres suitable for silvopasture then CO2 emissions coule be reduced by 31 gigatons. Farmers could realise financial gains of up to $700 billion on an investment of $42 billion.
If 50% of the world’s population restrict their diet to a healthy 2,500 calories per day and reduces meat consumption overall then 27 gigatons of emissions could be avoided through dietary change alone.
Currently, over 1 billion acres of farmland have been abandoned due to land degradation. By 2050 420 million acres could be restored and converted to regenerative farming. This would have an emissions impact of 14 gigatons saved, a potential financial return of $1.3 trillion over three decades on an investment of $72 billion, while producing an extra $9.5 billion tons of food.
The System of Rice Intensification has much higher yield benefits. With increased yields, 477 million additional tons of rice could be produced, assuming improved rice production grows to 218 million acres from 70 million acres presently. This would result in over 11 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions being reduced.
Presently, there are roughly 100 million acres of land being regeneratively farmed. It could increase to 1 billion acres by 2050. This increase could result in a reduction of 23 gigatons of carbon dioxide, from both sequestration and emission reductions. Regenerative agriculture could provide close to a $2 trillion return on an investment of $57 billion.
In the US only 40% of food waste is composted. Close to 60% is composted in Europe, if lower-income countries reach the US standards and higher-income countries EU rate then we could see 2.3 gigatons of CO2e avoided by 2050.
By reducing fertiliser overuse on 2 billion acres of farmland could avoid nearly 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide. No investment is required and farmers could save over $100 billion
The use of sprinklers and drop irrigation varied widely from over 40% in high income countries to 6% in lower income countries. It is possible that the area of land under improved irrigation grows from 133 million acres in 2020 to 450 million acres in 2050. This could avoid 1.3 gigatons of CO2 and save 90 billion gallons of water.
Source: Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming