A new study finds that if all parts of the food system are included, food production is responsible for as much as 40 percent of global emissions.
Emissions from food production, already considered one of the biggest contributors to climate change, have been underestimated for decades, potentially skewing the pledges that countries have made under the Paris climate agreement to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research.
In a study published this week in Environmental Research Letters, researchers found that the food system was responsible for as much as 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
“When you count it all up, across the food system, it’s enormous,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a researcher with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “So it offers countries really enormous opportunities.”
Recent estimates put agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions at about one-fifth of the global total, but that figure only includes emissions from on-farm activities, mostly raising crops and livestock. When the researchers looked at the entire food system—including the raising of crops and livestock, the conversion of land to agriculture, transportation, retail sales, food consumption and food waste—the total was significantly higher, between 20 and 40 percent, or about 16 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.