This World Environment Day, we need to talk about the harm being caused to our planet by fossil fuels and industrial agriculture, and the urgent need for communities everywhere to act before it’s too late.
The climate crisis is threatening the lives of at least 2 in 5 people globally, with between 3.3-3.6 billion people living in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change. As the United Nations' Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has warned, “Half of humanity is in the danger zone.”
Extreme weather patterns are increasing food insecurity, water scarcity, loss of livelihoods and homes, displacement and migration, disease, death and inequality. Of the billions of people living at the forefront of climate disasters between 2010 and 2020, they were 15 times more likely to die from floods, droughts and storms than those who live in regions with very low vulnerability. The situation is catastrophic and urgent action is needed now to prevent any further warming.
And those most affected by the climate crisis are the ones who have done the least to cause it. Communities in the Global South, especially women and girls, are being disproportionately affected. They are forced to battle with floods, droughts, cyclones, rising sea levels and crop failures that are becoming more severe with each passing year.
The escalating climate crisis is spreading further and the chaos that communities in the Global South has been grappling with for years is starting to impact communities in the Global North, with floods in Italy and Germany and wildfires in Canada, USA and Australia. We desperately need to join together to demand immediate action for climate justice before it really is too late.
At ActionAid International, we see the devastating impact fossil fuels and industrial agriculture is having on climate change and we call on activists and supporters everywhere to shout, “enough is enough”.
Why is industrial agriculture a big part of the problem?
Unbeknown to many people, industrial agriculture is the second largest contributor to global greenhouse gases. But agriculture is also the sector that is most vulnerable to climate impacts. Floods, droughts, cyclones, rising sea levels and erratic weather patterns can have devastating consequences on crop yields and farmers’ incomes, which are coming increasingly under threat in an era of climate change.
Historically, industrial agriculture – which is the intensive farming of live animals and crops for the mass production of food – was seen as the only solution to feed a rapidly growing global population. However, the consequences of these methods have been disastrous for the planet.
While it has remained under the radar as a culprit for the climate crisis, industrial agriculture relies heavily on industrial methods such as intensive planting of large areas of one single crop, cultivation of genetically modified plants, synthetic fertilisers and hybrid seeds, all designed to maximise production without considering the devastating consequences for our world.
Alongside this, the fossil fuels burned to produce synthetic nitrogen fertilisers lead to loss of soil carbon when applied to fields; and export commodities such as soy, palm oil and beef are major drivers of deforestation. Meanwhile, monocultures of single crop varieties and chemical-fertilised soils are more vulnerable to droughts, floods and pest attacks that are on the rise, due to dramatically rising temperatures.
Ultimately, the heavy reliance on these methods is environmentally damaging and does not value the efforts of millions of women food producers, farmers and indigenous communities who produce the food and care for our environment.
What is the alternative to industrial agriculture?
Agroecology is an excellent alternative to industrial agriculture. It’s a way of farming and managing crops, livestock, forests and fisheries that are viable, long-lasting, resilient to climate change, and offers other environmental, social and cultural benefits such as addressing food and water scarcity, gender inequality and poverty.
At ActionAid we believe that agroecology is a powerful and innovative solution to stop the climate crisis and strengthen the resilience of food systems to climate change impacts. The pandemic and invasion of Ukraine exposed the fragility of our global food and agriculture systems and the world is still reeling from this, agroecology once again presents itself as an indispensable approach to building resilience to such challenges.
Agroecological approaches reduce land degradation and are ultimately restorative to the environment. Agroecology practices boost soil health. By reducing the use of synthetic fertilisers, and harmful pesticides, and transitioning to compost, soil health is largely improved. This results in increased resilience to drought, and farmers benefit from increases in production as well as a rise in profits. With better yields and profits, farmers can experience greater improvements in food security.
Why are fossil fuels part of the problem?
Fossil fuel use is strongly recognised by many as the main cause of climate change. The majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuels, with agriculture and land use change as the second largest contributor. (IPCC AR6).
Much of the world’s energy is produced by burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas. Burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide gas. This contributes to the climate crisis by making our world warmer than it should be. Once fossil fuels are gone, they cannot be replaced, meaning they also aren’t sustainable.
Fossil fuel emission rates are now above pre-pandemic levels after a temporary drop due to lockdowns caused by COVID-19. Governments across the world are failing on their commitments to reduce fossil fuel emissions at the price of the planet. A recent report found that the ambition of emissions reduction pledges for 2030 needs to be seven times higher to be in line with the 1.5 °C goal of the Paris Agreement.
What is the solution to fossil fuels?
ActionAid International demands a just transition to reach 100% renewable energy globally, without harm to communities from land grabs or unsafe working conditions.
We want to ensure that the shift to greener pathways avoids harming communities and is guided by four key principles of just transitions:
- They must address – and not exacerbate – inequality.
- They must transform systems to work for people, nature and the climate.
- They must ensure inclusiveness and participation.
- They must develop comprehensive frameworks to support communities to make those shifts.
We must end financing for fossil fuels now to comply with the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5°C.
What can we do?
Now is the time to act! Everyone has a role to play in protecting our planet and these are some of the ways we can join together to do this.
- We must join young people globally to demand a feminist, just transition to a world free of fossil fuels and industrial agriculture.
- We must ensure women, young people and indigenous groups, who are leaders in agroecology and renewables innovation, are included, empowered and heard. We must urgently act to support them.
- We must listen to the voices of young people, who are facing uncertain futures, and join them to take action against climate injustice. The voices of young people must be included in the decisions taken now, and we must support them to hold those in power accountable.