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Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 924929 (2014) | Download Citation

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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Acknowledgements

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

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 1PZ, UK

    • Bojana Bajželj
    • , Julian M. Allwood
    •  & Elizabeth Curmi
  2. Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3EN, UK

    • Keith S. Richards
  3. Scottish Food Security Alliance-Crops and Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB24 3UU, UK

    • Pete Smith
  4. Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3RA, UK

    • John S. Dennis
  5. Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 3EA, UK

    • Christopher A. Gilligan

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Contributions

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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bojana Bajželj.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2353