New UN report on climate change, food production and land use: U-M experts can discuss
In a report issued today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food production is a key to solving the climate crisis. Keeping global temperatures at safe levels will require significant changes to the way the world produces food and manages land—as well as consumer behavior, according to the new IPCC report.
University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the report’s findings.
Martin Heller of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the School for Environment and Sustainability uses life cycle assessment to examine the environmental impacts of food systems. He has studied the links between food production, dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions. In a January paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Heller and colleagues reported that diets that are climate-friendly are also healthier—the first study to compare the climate impact and nutritional value of individual U.S. diets.
“The good news here is that there are win-win solutions with diets that are healthier for people and the planet,” Heller said. “Big reductions in food-related emissions don’t require eliminating foods entirely: moderate shifts away from red meat toward beans, eggs or chicken can lead to significant improvements in both health and our diet’s carbon footprint.”
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Ivette Perfecto, the George Willis Pack Professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, has 30 years of experience working on issues of agriculture and the environment. Her research focuses on agroecology, biodiversity and ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.
Perfecto is the author of four books and has more than 130 publications in peer-reviewed journals and 16 book chapters. She is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ecological Society of America, and a Senior Fellow of the Michigan Society of Fellows.
She was a lead coordinating author of the United Nations’ International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development.
“In 2009, the IAASTD report from the U.N. concluded that business as usual is not an option, referring to the need to make agriculture more sustainable to address environmental degradation and poverty in the world,” she said. “The latest IPCC report reiterates this conclusion. The good news is that millions of small-scale farmers in the world are practicing agriculture that helps cool the planet. They need to be supported. Further intensification of industrial agricultural is not the answer.”
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John Vandermeer, a Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, has been engaged in research on tropical agriculture for the past 35 years, having done research in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico and Puerto Rico. He currently is studying the indirect effects of climate change on the pest management systems in the production of coffee, both in Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Vandermeer has long been a proponent of the idea that understanding the details of the ecology of agroecosystems is essential for our ability to withstand the changes we expect from global climate change. He recently engaged with a team of ecologists to assess the impact of Hurricane Maria on the coffee agroecosystems of Puerto Rico.
The unexpected result of this research suggests that it is a combination of ecological processes and political status that determines whether a farm is resistant to severe hurricane damage. Given that more frequent and stronger hurricanes may be in our future, this study suggests that the political relationships between farmers and governments need to take into account the increased risks farmers now face as climate change proceeds.
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