To keep global temperature rises to under 2C by 2050, we need to eat much less of these foods (left) and much more of these (right). In Western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90 percent and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses. Graphic: The Guardian

By Damian Carrington
10 October 2018

(The Guardian) – Huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to avoid dangerous climate change, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of the food system’s impact on the environment [pdf]. In western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90 percent and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses.

The research also finds that enormous changes to farming are needed to avoid destroying the planet’s ability to feed the 10 billion people expected to be on the planet in a few decades.

Food production already causes great damage to the environment, via greenhouse gases from livestock, deforestation, and water shortages from farming, and vast ocean dead zones from agricultural pollution. But without action, its impact will get far worse as the world population rises by 2.3 billion people by 2050 and global income triples, enabling more people to eat meat-rich western diets.

This trajectory would smash critical environmental limits beyond which humanity will struggle to live, the new research indicates. “It is pretty shocking,” said Marco Springmann at the University of Oxford, who led the research team. “We are really risking the sustainability of the whole system. If we are interested in people being able to farm and eat, then we better not do that.”

“Feeding a world population of 10 billion is possible, but only if we change the way we eat and the way we produce food,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who was part of the research team. “Greening the food sector or eating up our planet: this is what is on the menu today.”

The new study follows the publication of a landmark UN report on Monday in which the world’s leading scientists warned there are just a dozen years in which to keep global warming under 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods and extreme heat. The report said eating less meat and dairy was important but said current trends were in the opposite direction.

The new research, published in the journal Nature, is the most thorough to date and combined data from every country to assess the impact of food production on the global environment. It then looked at what could be done to stop the looming food crisis.

“There is no magic bullet,” said Springmann. “But dietary and technological change [on farms] are the two essential things, and hopefully they can be complemented by reduction in food loss and waste.” About a third of food produced today never reaches the table.

The researchers found a global shift to a “flexitarian” diet was needed to keep climate change even under 2C, let alone 1.5C. This flexitarian diet means the average world citizen needs to eat 75% less beef, 90% less pork and half the number of eggs, while tripling consumption of beans and pulses and quadrupling nuts and seeds. This would halve emissions from livestock and better management of manure would enable further cuts.

In rich nations, the dietary changes required are ever more stark. UK and US citizens need to cut beef by 90% and milk by 60% while increasing beans and pulses between four and six times. However, the millions of people in poor nations who are undernourished need to eat a little more meat and dairy. [more]

Huge reduction in meat-eating ‘essential’ to avoid climate breakdown


Present (2010) and projected (2050) environmental pressures on five environmental domains divided by food group. Graphic: Springmann, et al., 2018 / Nature

10 October 2018 (PIK) – “Feeding a world population of 10 billion people is possible - yet only if we change the way we eat, and the way we produce food, our research shows. Greening the food sector or eating up our planet: this is what is on the menu today,” says Johan Rockström, Director Designate of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He’s one of the authors of a new study now published by an international team of scientists in the journal Nature.

“Already today, the food system is a major driver of climate change, water resource overuse, and of pollution. Without dedicated measures these impacts could increase by 60 to 90 percent by 2050, our calculations show for the first time. To keep food production within planetary boundaries, a safe operating space for humanity, we can do three things: eat healthier more plant-based diets, systematically reduce food loss and waste, and improve agricultural technologies like for instance tillage or fertilizer recycling. Interestingly, just switching to more plant-based ‘flexitarian’ diets can halve greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production. All measures combined can result in keeping healthy both planet and people," Rockström explains.

Lead author of the paper is Marco Springmann from the University of Oxford. The study is part of the work of the EAT-Lancet Commission for Food, Planet and Health of which Johan Rockström is a co-chair. EAT is a non-profit science-based platform for food system transformation founded by the Stordalen Foundation, the Stockholm Resilience Centre that until recently had been headed by Rockström and is now lead by Line Gordon who is also an author on the study, and the Wellcome Trust. Lancet is the leading journal for medical sciences.

Sustainable and healthy food to feed the world in 2050: Nature study


Impacts of reductions in food loss and waste, technological change, and dietary changes on global environmental pressures in 2050. Graphic: Springmann, et al., 2018 / Nature

ABSTRACT: The food system is a major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs. Here we show that between 2010 and 2050, as a result of expected changes in population and income levels, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. We analyse several options for reducing the environmental effects of the food system, including dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste. We find that no single measure is enough to keep these effects within all planetary boundaries simultaneously, and that a synergistic combination of measures will be needed to sufficiently mitigate the projected increase in environmental pressures.

Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits

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