‘Food production must be changed’

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Norwegians must join the rest of the world in eating less meat, and stop developing untouched natural areas, declared Norway’s government minister in charge of climate and environmental issue on Thursday. Ola Elvestuen was reacting to the UN Climate Panel’s report that calls for radical changes in how food is produced.

A Norwegian farmer mowing his field this summer not far from Sandnessjøen. Less than 4 percent of Norway’s land area is arable, yet farming is spread all over the country. The UN’s Climate Panel is now calling for changes in what’s grown, how it’s produced and how it’s distributed. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The report stresses that cutting carbon emissions from cars, industry and power plants isn’t enough. Too much of the world’s surface is being used to produce food and clothing for a growing population, according to the report, with agriculture and deforestation generating nearly a fourth of the world’s emissions. Agriculture is also wearing out the land in many areas, with less organic material now found in the earth. Researchers fear these problems will only increase over time.

Climate change, meanwhile, is worsening the situation through the sorts of sudden and heavy rain like recently experienced in both Oslo and rural Jølster. That washes away land as well.

The UN panel also urges major changes in what people eat, calling for reduced meat consumption and production to reduce methane gas production. The panel also calls for onoing programs to hinder deforestation, preservation and restoration of marshes, major reductions in food waste and a global shift towards more plant-based diets.

‘Need a new approach’
“We have to stop wasting our land, and we must view climate and natural diversity together,” Elvestuen said. “This report shows how the loss of nature accelerates climate change. We need a new approach towards agriculture that will ensure we have food production that the world can tolerate.”

He noted that the report estimates the global food production and distribution system can account for between 21- and 37 percent of the world’s total emissions generated by people. Without new measures, carbon emissions from agriculture will continue to rise.

The report, which comes just after statistics were released showing Norway to have the highest food prices in Europe, may be greeted with skepticism by Norwegian farmers and their lobbyists. They regularly note how less than 4 percent of Norway’s land mass is arable already, and many outlying areas rely on raising pork, lamb and cattle as a source of income that, in Norway, brings with it a high level of government support.

Norway nonetheless has already been producing more milk, lamb and pork than the Norwegian market can consume. Heavily regulated prices are kept high, however, despite periods when supply exceeds demand. Meat, for example, is either frozen and stored away or has been dumped on eastern European markets.

The UN is urging more production of grain products, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, in order to cut carbon emissions. It’s worried that as much as 30 percent of all food production in the world is either lost or thrown away.

‘Have to reorganize’
“We already know that we must cut out all fossil fuels in order to limit global warming,” said Elvestuen, whose position as climate and environmental minister is challenging in an oil-producing nation like Norway. “This report shows that won’t be enough. We also have to reorganize the world’s agricultural production.”

He noted that the Norwegian government already has an agreement with the food industry in Norway to cut food waste in half by 2030. “We have prohibited new cultivation of marshes, and we struck an offensive climate pack with the agricultural industry in June,” Elvestuen added, but that may not be enough either.

“We have to find a balance between more efficient food production (which is currently spread all over the country in Norway) for a growing population and limit deforestation to capture more carbon from the atmosphere,” Bob von Ort, a senior researcher at Norway’s Cicero Center for cllimate research, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the UN report was released. He said the world should be “very worried” about how global temperatures continue to rise.

Bård Solhjell, a former top politician for the Socialist Left party (SV) who now leads Norway’s chapter of WWF, praised Norway’s attempts to save rainforests, but wants more political attention on climate change. Norway has also faced opposition to its rainforest preservation efforts, most recently by some members of the new conservative Brazilian government.

Øyvind Eggen, leader of Norway’s rain forest fund, said it was a paradox that agriculture is the main reason for deforestation, which in turn threatens food production. “Farmers should be the rain forests’ biggest defenders,” he said.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund