Failure to address the underlying causes of climate change such as the way food is produce and consume food will cost the already fragile world economy $16-trillion by 2050 if current trends continue, an environmental lobby group Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) said in a report.

The report by the international grouping aimed at fighting climate change  was published on Monday. It said the ways in which people produce and consume food and use land accounts for $12-trillion a year in hidden costs to the environment, human health and development.

FOLU is an international community of organisations and individuals launched in 2017 to speed up transformation of the world’s food and land use systems to achieve the targets for climate and sustainable development set out in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The coalition was launched at the UN General Assembly and  aims to work with leading civil society, scientific, public and private actors to make the case for transforming food and land use systems​. 

The FOLU report is informed by in-depth analytical work on specific sectoral issues. The model provides a link between agricultural production choices and their impact on the planet. ​

FOLU highlights in its report that food and land use systems were currently responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are the leading cause of damage to forests and other natural habitats. 

There have been growing calls for businesses and individuals to reduce their greenhouse emissions amid mounting evidence of climate change and the threat it poses humankind, including freshwater shortages, climate instability and famine. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently signed into law the carbon tax bill which is meant to compel businesses and individuals to reduce their greenhouse emissions. The tax penalises large emitters of greenhouse gases as countries move to meet the global climate change targets set in Paris in 2015.

According to a recent report by the IMF, carbon tax is the best way to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as it allows for a reduction in energy consumption, favours cleaner energies and provides much-needed revenues, which could be used to finance sustainable and more inclusive growth.

The FOLU report said the food and land use systems were leading sources of the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

If these systems (along with energy systems) continue to follow current trends, the world will miss the Paris Agreement goals by a significant margin and could experience runaway climate change as a result.

Catastrophes previously considered “tail-end” risks will become increasingly probable, according to the report. For instance, the likelihood of simultaneous production shocks affecting more than  10% of production in the top four maize-exporting countries, accounting for 87%  of global maize exports, rises from close to zero now to 7% under a 2°C warming scenario and to a staggering 86% under a 4°C warming scenario.  This would have a huge impact on global markets and the 740-million people living in extreme poverty.

“If that is allowed to happen, food shortages, migration and conflict on a scale rarely seen, and only in certain areas, over the past century will become regular events all over the world, with incalculable implications for food security and geopolitical instability,” the authors of the report said.

“Although numerous regions will struggle with these trends, nowhere are they likely to have greater impact than in sub-Saharan Africa, where they threaten to undermine recent economic progress and improvement in livelihoods, while causing extensive human suffering and ecological breakdown.”

The report proposed a concrete reform agenda centered around ten critical transitions, including healthier diets “because the consumption patterns of more than nine billion people – what they choose to eat and how they make or are influenced to make those choices – were the critical factors shaping how food and land use systems evolve.”  

Public and private sector leaders needed to make transformation of food and land use systems an urgent priority.

According to the authors of the report, “reaching a better future requires governments, businesses, farmers, financial institutions, academia and civil society organisations worldwide to make fundamental and urgent changes to food and land use systems.

“It required that the rule determining how the system operates are changed to encourage practices that create public benefits and penalise behaviours that harm the public good.”