A new report from Oxfam America claims that five common foods are major contributors to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Wheat, soy, corn, rice and palm oil can be found in a number of popular foods, and corporations are plowing through the forests that absorb carbon emissions in order to make more room for them.
This makes food production effectively responsible for spewing more greenhouse gases than any country on the map minus the U.S. and China. Unless ways of cutting emissions are implemented, the Paris Agreement is likely to do no good.
“The Paris Agreement was a big step forward, but we can’t meet its goals without further urgent action,” says Tim Gore of Oxfam International. “Business and industry leaders…must show that Paris is a springboard for deeper emissions cuts and do more to help farmers on the front lines of climate change. The food and beverage sector should be leading the way.”
The food industry stands as one of the biggest contributors to climate change today, accounting for about 25 percent of the world’s emissions, according to Oxfam.
However, the real problem is that once climate change occurs, food production becomes vulnerable. Alterations in climate can lead to a number of consequences, such as rising sea levels, drought and excessive rain. These factors can potentially damage food production rates, and make lands useless for further crop growth.
“When you look at most regions in the world, one degree of warming will translate to a general loss of five to ten percent crop yield,” says Stanford University professor David Lobell. “So, if the global average temperatures change by a couple of degrees, a 15 percent loss in crop yield is feasible.”
Major food conglomerates like Kellogg, Nestle and General Mills’ are already taking action. In a letter published in the Washington Post, these and other food conglomerates voiced their concerns, and urged officials to enact protection policies that would potentially offset the damage done by climate change.
“The challenge presented by climate change will require all of us – government, civil society and business – to do more with less,” the letter states. “For companies like ours, that means producing more food on less land using fewer resources. If we don’t take action now, we risk not only today’s livelihoods, but those of future generations.”
Oxfam America’s Aditi Sen says one of the biggest things companies can do is set science-based targets to reduce emissions throughout their entire supply chains, not just basic operations. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, individuals can do their part by limiting meat intake and buying organic whenever possible. In the end, emission cuts must be a partnered move between the public, farmers and businesses alike.
“Food companies not only need to outline science-based emissions cuts in their supply chain and work with small-scale farmers to implement them, but also help these farmers thrive in the face of the changing climate by guaranteeing them a living income,” says Tim Gore. “Doing so would be good for people and good for business.”