Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation

Abstract

Recent studies show that current trends in yield improvement will not be sufficient to meet projected global food demand in 2050, and suggest that a further expansion of agricultural area will be required. However, agriculture is the main driver of losses of biodiversity and a major contributor to climate change and pollution, and so further expansion is undesirable. The usual proposed alternative—intensification with increased resource use—also has negative effects. It is therefore imperative to find ways to achieve global food security without expanding crop or pastureland and without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Some authors have emphasized a role for sustainable intensification in closing global ‘yield gaps’ between the currently realized and potentially achievable yields. However, in this paper we use a transparent, data-driven model, to show that even if yield gaps are closed, the projected demand will drive further agricultural expansion. There are, however, options for reduction on the demand side that are rarely considered. In the second part of this paper we quantify the potential for demand-side mitigation options, and show that improved diets and decreases in food waste are essential to deliver emissions reductions, and to provide global food security in 2050.

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Figure 1: Distribution of terrestrial biomes, suitability and land use and its connection to the global agricultural annual biomass flows for 2009.
Figure 2: Diagram showing the total GHG emissions from agriculture and land-use change due to agricultural expansion, for the six scenarios.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by a grant to the University of Cambridge from BP as part of their Energy Sustainability Challenge.

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B.B., J.M.A., K.S.R., C.A.G., J.S.D. and E.C. developed the model, B.B., P.S., J.M.A. and K.S.R. designed the study/scenarios, B.B., K.S.R. and C.A.G. analysed the outputs, and all authors wrote the paper with B.B. leading.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bojana Bajželj.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bajželj, B., Richards, K., Allwood, J. et al. Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation. Nature Clim Change 4, 924–929 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2353

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