London — The world's population must drastically change diets in order to prevent "potentially catastrophic" damage to the planet, scientists have warned.
Global food production is the largest strain on the earth caused by humans and unsustainable farming is already driving climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss, found a major project commissioned by The Lancet health journal.
As researchers warned that people must sharply cut the amount of meat they eat to live sustainably, here is why managing food supply is key to controlling climate change:
Food production creates about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, experts estimate. Livestock farming for meat and dairy represents more than half of that total at 14.5 percent of all emissions, with cattle the biggest offenders.
Agriculture is the biggest single driver of deforestation, stripping away forests that reduce climate change by absorbing and storing carbon. Livestock takes up the most space, with land used to grow animal feed and for grazing using nearly 80 percent of all agricultural land.
About 70 percent of the world's freshwater is used for agriculture, with climate change expected to increase the number of people facing water scarcity. More efficient farming could reduce water use, helping to meet climate challenges.
Up to a third of all food is wasted - totalling around 1.3 billion tonnes per year. It results in unnecessary emissions and means food does not reach those who need it. Experts predict the amount of food waste will rise further without action.
A GROWING POPULATION
The number of people on earth is expected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050, adding pressure on the world's resources. It is estimated that world food production may have to double to keep pace with demographic changes.
Sources: World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Boston Consulting Group, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, UN-Water
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Jason Fields and Katy Migiro. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, and covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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