State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Raising Ambitions for Food Systems and Climate Change

This story was published as part of our Climate Week NYC coverage. Learn more about Climate Week, read our other stories, and check out our upcoming events.

The Food Climate Partnership (FCP)—a consortium of scientists and policy practitioners from Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR) and Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP), New York University’s School of Environmental Studies (NYU), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)—is hosting an event on Tuesday, September 21 during New York City’s Climate Week 2021: Raising Ambitions for Food Systems and Climate Change by Uniting Science and Policy.

The event, co-hosted by the new Columbia Climate School, aims to bring together leading experts from the food systems science and policy research communities, with opening remarks from New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, current member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. The event will also help establish the nascent food program at the Climate School, and ensure that the “Fourth Purpose” of the university is enshrined in the DNA of its food systems work.

The FCP’s mission is to provide “better data, better policy, and better outreach” concerning the food system and climate change, by adopting a “double helix” approach—integrating science and policy— to help create a more sustainable low-carbon and nutritious food system.

To that end, members of the Food Climate Partnership have also contributed to recent publications that improve the quantification of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the food system. “Emissions of greenhouse gases from energy use in agriculture, forestry and fisheries: 1970–2019” published in Earth System Science Data, provides updated numbers on energy use-related emissions generated within the farm gate for crop and livestock production and from fisheries. Country-level information was generated using United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) and International Energy Agency (IEA) data on energy in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Electricity used within the farm gate was also quantified. The paper found that annual emissions from energy use (including electricity) in agriculture increased seven percent from 1990 to 2019. Use of electricity and the associated indirect emissions increased three-fold over the 1990–2019 period, becoming the largest emissions source from energy use in agriculture since 2005.

“Methods for estimating greenhouse gas emissions from food systems: Domestic food transport,” part of the FAO Statistics Working Paper Series, provides a methodology for estimating the GHG emissions associated with historic and current domestic food transport, in an effort to inform countries of the environmental impact of their food distribution systems. The paper responds to the call of the upcoming Food Systems Summit, held in conjunction with Climate Week, to characterize the role of food and agriculture to accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

As a result of this work, as well as existing FAO research on energy use in food systems, a new version of the FAOSTAT Emissions Shares domain is undergoing its final stages of peer review. Once released, users will have access to time series of the share of food and agriculture emissions to total emissions from all sectors of the economy for the period 1990-2019. This update extends and greatly expands the previous version, by including estimates of emissions from food systems, as well as covering the full spectrum from farm-gate and land use change to pre- and post-production activities.

The Food Climate Partnership, in collaboration with the Columbia Climate School, will continue to advance healthy and sustainable food systems across the globe by conducting cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, convening policymakers and key stakeholders from energy, agriculture, and public health, and ensuring that sustainable development priorities are evidence-based and impact-oriented.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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