A shift to flexitarian diets, farm machinery with zero emissions, optimisation of animal feed and management of forests and natural carbon sinks are among 25 measures that could help the global agriculture sector stick to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C pathway.
Agriculture already contributes around 20% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to an analysis published by McKinsey, with emissions from dairy cows and beef cattle on a par with the US (8 GtCO2e). And with population growth and per capita food consumption rises, agriculture will grow “faster than you realise” the experts noted.
Reducing emissions from agriculture poses challenges due to the diffuse nature of farming and the critical role of agriculture in the life (and livelihoods) of billions of people.
The consultants therefore set out a series of steps to ensure emissions cuts are in line with the Paris Agreement. The first is to “produce food as efficiently as possible”, that is “to change how we farm”. This is perhaps the most straightforward, too, given there are proven technologies already being used. Zero-emission machinery, low tillage, anaerobic digestion for manure and greenhouse gas focused genetic selection and breeding could all help to achieve 20% of the sector’s required emissions cuts by 2050.
But there will need to be other changes outside the farm gate – some of them significant. Reducing food waste and eating less meat appear to be key.
Food waste and loss will need to fall from 33% today to 20% by 2050, McKinsey’s experts said. And without a “significant breakthrough” in production efficiency, the share of global consumption of ruminant animal protein (mostly beef and lamb) will need to be cut by half, from about 9% currently to 4-5% by 2050.