Tackling food consumption inequality to fight hunger without pressuring the environment

Abstract

Ending hunger is a Sustainable Development Goal of the UN. However, feeding a growing world population by increasing food production without implementing more sustainable consumption will threaten the environment. We explore alternative hunger eradication scenarios that do not compromise environmental protection. We find that an economy-growth-oriented scenario, which ignores inequitable food distribution and is aimed at ending hunger by increasing overall food availability, would require about 20% more food production, 48 Mha of additional agricultural land and would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 550 Mt of CO2 equivalents yr−1 in 2030, compared with the business-as-usual scenario. If hunger eradication efforts were focused solely on the under-nourished, food demand would increase by only 3%, and the associated environmental trade-offs would be largely reduced. Moreover, a combined scenario that targets the under-nourished while also reducing over-consumption, food waste, agricultural intensification and other environmental impacts would reduce food demand by 9% compared with the business-as-usual scenario and would lead to the multiple benefits of reducing hunger and contributing to environmental sustainability.

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Fig. 1: Possible food distribution transformation to achieve the eradication of hunger.
Fig. 2: Additional food supplies and responses of agricultural systems to ending hunger under the Baseline scenario and different combinations of hunger and food security policies in 2030 relative to 2010.
Fig. 3: Global agricultural impacts on the environment under different hunger eradication policies in 2030.

Data availability

The data repository, including scenario data, is stored on Harvard Dataverse (https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/RQZELX).

Code availability

The authors declare that the program code used to generate results in this study is available from the corresponding author on request.

Change history

  • 11 November 2019

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.

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Acknowledgements

T.H. is supported by JSPS Overseas Research Fellowships and Global Environmental Research Fund 2–1702 of the Ministry of Environment of Japan. P.H., S.F. and H.V. are supported by the H2020 SUSFANS project—Metrics, Models and Foresight for European Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security under grant agreement no. 633692. P.H., A.P., S.F. and H.V. are supported by the UNIDO IS-WEL project—Integrated Solutions for Water, Energy and Land under grant no. 140312. T.H. is grateful to IIASA and NIES for the opportunity to visit IIASA and for this collaborative work with IIASA colleagues.

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T.H. and P.H. designed the research and carried out the analysis of the modelling results. T.H. created figures and led the writing of the paper. All authors contributed to the discussion and interpretation of the results and to writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Tomoko Hasegawa.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figs. 1–7, Table 1, methods and references.

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Hasegawa, T., Havlík, P., Frank, S. et al. Tackling food consumption inequality to fight hunger without pressuring the environment. Nat Sustain 2, 826–833 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0371-6

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