Interview: “Transformational change” is needed as severe climate change impacts loom

By Pam Strayer

Last month, Cornell University professor Rachel Bezner Kerr traveled to Egypt where she addressed scientists and political leaders gathered from around the world at the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 27).

Bezner Kerr is a co-director of graduate studies for Cornell’s Department of Global Development and one of the three lead coordinating authors of a chapter about food, fiber and “other ecosystem products” for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Bezner Kerr believes that time is running out when it comes to options for preventing severe climate change impacts on people and nature.

Among her observations, Bezner Kerr is calling for a systemic transformation across the agricultural industry, which is responsible for approximately 33% of carbon emissions, including those associated with nitrogen-based fertilizers.

The New Lede (TNL) spoke with Bezner Kerr upon her return from COP 27 about her views on how and why a food system transformation is needed for climate resilience. The following is an edited and condensed account of the conversation:

TNL: When we think of climate change, why do we also need to think about a sweeping change to our current agricultural system?

Bezner Kerr: That is a key message coming out of the IPCC report–that we need transformational change and for multiple reasons. One, in terms of the food system, right now the way we produce food is heavily reliant on fossil fuels. It’s not something that you can just address one component and then your food system is set.