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Nature's Role

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The natural world and its ecosystems is a major, cost-effective ally in the goal of a climate stable world. Creative management of nature - from forests, rivers and wetlands to oceans and drylands – helps boost food security, cleaner air and biodiversity while reducing the vulnerability of people to climate change.

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The effects of climate change on crop and food production are already evident in several regions of the world. A briefing from the University of Cambridge based on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report explores the specific trends that will affect the agricultural sector. Below are some of the key findings.

Climate-related impacts are already reducing crop yields in some parts of the world, a trend that is projected to continue as temperatures rise further. Crops affected include staples such as wheat, maize and rice. Climate change is projected to increase price volatility for agricultural commodities, and reduce food quality.

Farmers can adapt to some changes, but there is a limit to what can be managed. Adaptive capacity is projected to be exceeded in regions closest to the equator if temperatures increase by 3°C or more. The agricultural industry’s own interests are best served by ambitious approaches to adaptation and to cutting emissions.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture comprised about 10–12% of man-made GHG emissions in 2010. The sector is the largest contributor of non-carbon dioxide (non-CO2) GHGs such as methane.

Opportunities for mitigation include reducing emissions from land use change, land management and livestock management. Carbon can be captured and stored in soil and biomass. Economy-wide emissions from energy use can be reduced, under certain conditions, by replacing fossil fuels with biofuels.

The potential for reducing GHG emissions from agriculture through changes in consumption could be substantially higher than technical mitigation options. Approaches include reducing food waste, changing diets towards less GHG-intensive food (e.g. substitution of animal products with plant-based food), and reducing over-consumption in regions where this is prevalent.

Download briefing and infographic

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