Food production generates a third of greenhouse gas emissions, but spending to reengineer farming practices has yet to reach the levels needed to slow global warming, experts said at the Concordia Summit in New York City this week.
Climate-smart agriculture is on the agenda for the United Nations climate conference, COP28, in November, and sustainable development professionals in New York got a preview.
“Right now, the food system … is about a third of the emissions. Business-as-usual takes it to being, by far, the largest source of emissions by mid-century unless we do something,” said Michael Doane, global managing director of food and freshwater systems for the Nature Conservancy.
Far from a future threat, Doane pointed to a climate-related 20 percent reduction in food productivity and a correlating 50 percent rise in food prices worldwide since 2000.
“We need to reinvest in better seeds, better inputs, but also reinvest in nature. That’s the opportunity,” Doane said, pointing to the conservancy's long-term research partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an initiative with McDonald’s to improve beef production practices in Nebraska.
Doane joined Chavonda Jacobs-Young, undersecretary for research, education and economics and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist, in applauding sharply higher federal funding for food and agriculture while cautioning that more spending is needed across the globe.
“We have over 700 million people in the world today who don’t have enough to eat,” Jacobs-Young said, adding that by 2050, there will be 2 billion more mouths to feed. “The numbers are staggering.”
The 20-year USDA veteran said centuries of data on regenerative agriculture can be applied to producing more food while using less water and safeguarding soil, including no-till farming for crops and biomass fermentation for proteins.
“The practices exist,” she said. “Our producers need resources. They have to be able to make money.”
Ahead of the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, 53 countries and 500 companies and partners have pledged $13 billion to a climate-smart agriculture coalition, AIM for Climate, started by the United States and United Arab Emirates to boost investment and innovation in agriculture by 2025.
“One of the things that became clear this week in many conversations is how little the ag sector is getting in climate financing,” said Jon Banner, chief impact officer for McDonald’s, who moderated the Concordia Summit panel. “There’s anywhere from $300 billion to $600 billion in climate financing, and only 3 to 6 percent is going toward agriculture.”
With a presence in 120 countries, Banner said McDonald’s feeds 65 million people and is committed to using the company’s scale for good.
“We know the benefits of climate-smart agriculture. We know the benefits of renewable electricity in trying to decarbonize the world. We’re all trying to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. We know that to feed a global population, that’s no small task.”
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