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Our food – from what we eat to how it is grown – accounts for more carbon emissions than transport and yet staple crops will be hit hard by global warming.

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Did you know that what’s on your plate plays a larger role in contributing to climate change than the car you drive? When most wealthy people think about their carbon footprint or their contributions to climate change, they’ll think about where their electricity and heat come from or what they drive. They’ll think about fossil fuels and miles per gallon, about LED lights and mass transit – but not so much about combine harvesters or processed meals or food waste. Few consider the impacts of the food they eat, despite the fact that globally, food systems account for roughly one quarter of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than the entire transportation sector, more than all industrial practices, and roughly the same as the production of electricity and heat.

Read more: Why what we eat is crucial to the climate change question

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The Collins glacier on King George Island in the Antarctic has retreated in the last 10 years and shows signs of fragility. AFP photo

Antarctica:  A decade ago, a thick layer of ice covered the Collins Glacier on Antarctica’s King George Island.

Now, the rocky landscape is visible to the naked eye, in a region that is both a victim of and a laboratory for climate change.

Read more: Antarctica: a laboratory for climate change

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The coastal city of San Juan in Puerto Rico was flooded after Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017.Credit: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/The Washington Post/Getty

Cities must address climate change. More than half of the world’s population is urban, and cities emit 75% of all carbon dioxide from energy use 1. Meeting the target of the 2015 Paris climate agreement to keep warming well below 2° C above pre-industrial levels requires staying within a ‘carbon budget’ and emitting no more than around 800 gigatonnes of CO2 in total after 2017. Yet bringing the rest of the world up to the same infrastructure level as developed countries (those listed as Annex 1 to the Kyoto Protocol) by 2050 could take up to 350 gigatonnes of the remaining global carbon budget 2. Much of this growth will be in cities in the developing world (see ‘Urban development challenge’).

Cities are increasingly feeling the effects of extreme weather. Many are located on floodplains, in dry areas or on coasts. In 2017, more than 1,000 people died and 45 million people lost homes, livelihoods, and services when severe floods hit southeast Asian cities, including Dhaka in Bangladesh and Mumbai in India. California’s suburbs and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil have experienced floods and mudslides on the heels of drought, wildfires and heavy rains. Cape Town in South Africa has endured extreme drought since 2015. By 2030, millions of people and US$4 trillion of assets will be at risk from such events (see go.nature.com/2sbj4qh).

Read more: Six research priorities for cities and climate change

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