Practical climate politics for the 2020s – Land use, biodiversity and food
The third and final seminar of the 2023 Christ’s College Climate Seminar Series was held on 2 February 2023 at Christ’s College Cambridge. Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit, University of Cambridge was joined by guest speakers Professor Andrew Balmford, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge; and Professor Sarah Bridle, Chair in Food, Climate and Society, University of York. The theme of the final seminar was the roles that land use, biodiversity and food play in climate change mitigation.
The link between food and climate change
Highlighting the fact that one-third of all climate change is caused by food consumption and production, Professor Bridle noted that different foods contribute to different amounts of climate change. She stated that producing and consuming 100 g of steak causes thirty times the amount of emissions compared to the same weight of lentils. She further discussed that this means that we can already provide a solution to emissions-related concerns by altering the foods that we produce and consume.
She also argued that moving away from animal-based diets would also free up some lands and these lands could be used for other means, such as forest regeneration, within the scope of combating climate change. After discussing how public opinions and awareness changed policy regarding the use of plastics, Professor Bridle concluded her speech by expressing her optimism about change in relation to attitudes to food.
The link between biodiversity and climate change
On the other hand, Professor Balmford progressed the discussion by focusing on the link between biodiversity and climate change. He argued that 15% of all species are on their way to extinction in the UK and approached farming as the main reason for this extinction. Indicating the link between our current food consumption and biodiversity, Professor Balmford emphasised that the UK imports one-third of its food from overseas. Subsequently, he argued that this has a huge global extinction effect compared to domestic food production.
Professor Balmford also argued that there is a need for focusing on supply-side interventions to identify and target the most damaging effects of industrialised farming in addition to demand-side interventions such as diet shifts and cutting food waste. After arguing that land sharing and friendly farming practices are well-intentioned but not working, he stated that the wildlife on farms is still decreasing despite the fact that farmers are financially supported to adopt wildlife friendly farming practices. Professor Balmford concluded his speech by highlighting that the solution lies in high yield farming which frees up space for wildlife whilst not compromising levels of food production.
At the end of the seminar, a question and answer session was held with audience participation. During the session, a range of topics was covered with a particular focus on the current government policies such as wildlife friendly farming. The discussion further broadened on the possibility if the industry may provide solutions to these problems and also the importance of high yield farming systems for reducing emissions. The final seminar concluded with Professor Marteau's call to action for the UK government.