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3 Ideas to Cool a World That’s Getting Hotter and Hungrier

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

You’ve probably been seeing a lot on social media about COP27 – the 27th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties. As usual, there was good news and bad news.

GOOD! For the first time, an agreement was passed to provide loss and damages to those countries dealing with the fallout effects of climate change caused by wealthier nations. This has been an ongoing fight for nearly a decade. This marks an historical moment for climate justice.

BAD. There were no concrete action agreements reached on limiting fossil fuel use.

Amidst all the good and the bad, amidst the myriad conversations, there was a very important conversation sparked on the sidelines that spitballed ideas for how to create a cleaner future.

The main topic at hand? How does the world produce more food in the face of a global food crisis without risking the planet by contributing further to global warming?

The Sideline Conversation

According to the World Food Programme,[1] the number of people experiencing food insecurity has grown from 135 million in 53 countries pre-pandemic to 345 million in 82 countries today. The world is getting hungrier yet agricultural practices today are contributing immensely to global warming. A big focus at COP27 surrounded the question how do we increase food production while also cutting back on emissions?

This question inspired Stanford faculty in attendance to organize a side event. Twelve Stanford faculty members, researchers, and students presented findings from their areas of expertise to arrive at some concrete, innovative solutions to understand and responsibly minimize agricultural emissions.

Here’s what they came up with:

Balance the Global Carbon Budget

The Global Carbon Project (GCP) is a committee that identifies greenhouse gases contributed through fossil fuel and land use to try to “balance” the world’s carbon checkbook.

The research presented during the Sideline Conversation revealed that the 2022 amount of carbon dioxide emissions due to fossil fuels and land use is 40.6 gigatons. To significantly impact climate change, they found that we need to reduce CO2 emissions to the same degree we did during the height of the pandemic.

Keep Pace with Population Growth Through Sustainable Agriculture

One way to reduce carbon and fossil fuel emission is to capture it. Carbon sinks such as cover crops and trees are natural resources that organically capture and store carbon indefinitely. Trees are essential carbon capture geniuses. But when they are felled, they release those greenhouse gases, releasing a Pandora’s Box into the atmosphere.

This has become a serious issue as deforestation occurs more and more to provide land for food production. Research from The Sustainability Consortium and the World Resources Institute have identified that half of the 4.2 million hectares of forests destroyed in the year 2020 were due to food production and commodity crops.[2]

The reality now is that 1/3 of the global land surface is made up of agricultural soil. One way to mitigate the impact of deforestation would be to replace some of the lost forest with cover crops.

A cover crop is any not-for-profit crop planted along with for-profit crops that is used to improve soil health, retain water, and prevent erosion – and capture carbon. Research is revealing that cover crops can be easily adapted to any farming practice and could seriously help protect the planet from the effects of deforestation and bad agricultural practices.[3]

Janet Ranganathan, Managing Director for Strategy, Learning and Results at the World Resources Institute, commented, “It's good to sequester carbon in farmland because it has many benefits, including building resilience to climate change. The trick is that we can’t do that at the expense of yields, or we jeopardize what little is left to nature.”

Financial Support for Countries Starting Their Own Food Production

Places like Europe – which imports most of its food – are looking to start taking on the responsibility of food production to increase carbon sink options and biodiversity on the globe. But with this comes a slue of economic and environmental burdens. Part of the loss and damages agreements reached at COP27 involved an agreement to provide financial support for nations instituting policies for food production.

Allison Chatrchyan, director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, commented, “Policy responses in agriculture are more likely to succeed if they consider the role of farmers, first and foremost as key agents of change.”

COP27 is a very important conversation each year to determine ways to reach a clean future. But we’re also really happy that Stanford faculty understood sometimes a Sideline Conversation needs to happen to really get down to the nitty gritty.

Read the entire synopsis and watch the Sideline Conversation here.



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