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Upcoming IPCC report to call for urgent food system reforms

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Jeff Tyson

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to release a report on Thursday, demonstrating how the agricultural sector contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, and emphasizing a need to change the way countries produce food and manage land.

Ariel Ortiz-Bobea

Associate Professor

Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, assistant professor of applied economics and management and a fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, says the report highlights the urgent need to measure the real environmental footprint of agriculture.

Ortiz-Bobea says:

“The publication of this IPCC report highlights the urgent need to fundamentally reform the way governments measure the performance of the agricultural sector. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. Right now official statistics of agricultural productivity do not account for the environmental footprint of agriculture. For instance, a country may look more productive on paper while destroying forests, boosting greenhouse gas emissions and increasing water pollution.

 “No country is spared. Even developed countries like the United States do not account for the environmental footprint of agriculture in their official statistics. There are some isolated initiatives trying to improve the measurement of agricultural productivity, but these efforts do not yet benefit from the financial and institutional support they merit.”

Sarah Davidson Evanega

International Professor of Plant Breeding & Genetics

Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science and professor of plant breeding and genetics, says applications of the latest technology can help scientists reduce emissions from agriculture.

Evanega says:

“Addressing the climate catastrophe is about much more than fossil fuels: Agriculture contributes more than one-fourth of total greenhouse gas emissions. Environmentalists who are serious about battling global hunger and limiting greenhouse gas emissions must be open to all tools — including genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and CRISPR. We simply can’t tackle tomorrow’s issues with yesterday’s tools.

“Applications of GM technology exist today that can help displace animal use, engineer carbon dioxide sinks, reduce or eliminate nitrogen fertilizer, reduce methane emissions and produce more food with fewer resources. Accelerating plant and animal breeding innovation can put us on a path to feed 10 billion people by 2050 while at the same time ensuring the global temperature does not rise beyond catastrophic thresholds.

“These and future tools allow us to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Scientists are clear that global warming is a reality - this is no time for science denial, whether about climate change or GMOs. Anyone who is still holding onto a zero-tolerance view on GMOs is helping to crank up the global furnace.”

Daryl Nydam

Professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences

Daryl Nydam, professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences and director of Quality Milk Production Services, says the dairy industry has made strides in efficiency and sustainability, and in New York state, the industry helps farmers produce more food with fewer resources.

Nydam says:

"Climate change is real and strategic land use for efficient production of food are part of the solution. The U.S. dairy industry produces more than 20 percent of U.S. protein, more than 50 percent of calcium, more than 25 percent of B vitamins, and more than 15 percent of potassium on less than 20 million acres of land. For comparison that means all of dairy production (including crop production, nutrient management, youngstock rearing, etc.) in the U.S. could fit in less than two thirds of New York state alone.

"Indeed, only 25 percent of land in New York state is farmed while over 60 percent is forested or wild lands compared to 100 years ago when over 70 percent of land was farmed with less than half forested. Yet New York state has never produced more food with less resources than presently. Even globally where dairy contributes even more nutrients (e.g. one third of dietary protein) it contributes only three to four percent of human derived (anthropogenic) greenhouse gas emissions. So efficient dairy production can be taught globally to continue to sustainably nourish the world's population while remaining within planetary boundaries."

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