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Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits

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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.
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Options for keeping the food system
within environmental limits
Marco Springmann1,2*, Michael Clark3, Daniel Mason-D’Croz4,5, Keith Wiebe4, Benjamin Leon Bodirsky6, Luis Lassaletta7,
Wim de Vries8, Sonja J. Vermeulen9,10, Mario Herrero5, Kimberly M. Carlson11, Malin Jonell12, Max Troell12,13,
Fabrice DeClerck14,15, Line J. Gordon12, Rami Zurayk16, Peter Scarborough2, Mike Rayner2, Brent Loken12,14, Jess Fanzo17,18,
H. Charles J. Godfray1,19, David Tilman20,21, Johan Rockström6,12 & Walter Willett22
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.
The global food system is a major driver of climate change
, land-use
change and biodiversity loss3,4, depletion of freshwater resources5,6, and
pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through nitrogen and
phosphorus run-off from fertilizer and manure application
. It has
contributed to the crossing of several of the proposed ‘planetary bound-
aries’ that attempt to define a safe operating space for humanity on a
stable Earth system1012, in particular those concerning climate change,
biosphere integrity, and biogeochemical flows related to nitrogen and
phosphorous cycles. If socioeconomic changes towards Western con-
sumption patterns continue, the environmental pressures of the food
system are likely to intensify1316, and humanity might soon approach
the planetary boundaries for global freshwater use, change in land use,
and ocean acidification
. Beyond those boundaries, ecosystems
could be at risk of being destabilized and losing the regulation functions
on which populations depend11,12.
Here we analyse the option space available for the food system to
reduce its environmental impacts and stay within the planetary bound-
aries related to food production. We build on existing analyses that
have advanced the planetary-boundary framework in terms of systemic
threats to large-scale ecosystems11,12,1820, discussed the role of agricul-
ture with respect to those pressures10,21, and analysed the impacts on
individual environmental domains
, including selected measures
to alleviate those impacts22–24. The planetary-boundary framework
is not without criticism, particularly because of the heterogeneity of
the different boundaries and their underlying scientific bases, includ-
ing the difficulty of defining global ecosystem thresholds for local
environmental impacts2527. Despite these limitations, we consider
the planetary-boundary framework to be useful for framing, in broad
terms, the planetary option space that preserves the sustainability of
key ecosystems. We acknowledge the ongoing debate by quantifying the
planetary boundaries of the food system in terms of broad ranges that
reflect methodological uncertainties (seeMethods), and by reporting
the environmental impacts in absolute terms (for example, emissions
in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents), which allows for comparisons
to other measures of environmental sustainability.
We advance the present state of knowledge by constructing and
calibrating a global food-systems model with country-level detail that
resolves the major food-related environmental impacts and includes
a comprehensive treatment of measures for reducing these impacts
(seeMethods). The regional detailof the model accounts for different
production methods and environmental impacts that are linked by
imports and exports of primary, intermediate and final products. We
use the food-system model and estimates of present and future food
demand to quantify food-related environmental impacts at the countr y
and crop level in 2010 and 2050 for five environmental domains and the
related planetary boundaries: greenhouse-gas (GHG) emission related
to climate change; cropland use related to land-system change; fresh-
water use of surface and groundwater; and nitrogen and phosphorus
application related to biogeochemical flows.
To characterize pathways towards a food system with lower envi-
ronmental impacts that stays within planetary boundaries, we connect
a region-specific analysis of the food system to a detailed analysis of
1Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. 2Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention, Nuffield
Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. 3Natural Resources Science and Management, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN, USA. 4Environment and Production
Technology Division, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DC, USA. 5CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation,
St Lucia, Brisbane, Australia. 6Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany. 7CEIGRAM/Agricultural Production, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
8Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands. 9WWF International, Gland, Switzerland. 10Hoffmann Centre for Sustainable Resource Economy,
Chatham House, London, UK. 11Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, USA. 12Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm
University, Stockholm, Sweden. 13Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden. 14EAT, Oslo, Norway. 15Agricultural Biodiversity and
Ecosystem Services, Bioversity International, Rome, Italy. 16Department of Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut,
Beirut, Lebanon. 17Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA. 18Department of International Health of the
Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA. 19Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. 20Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior,
University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN, USA. 21Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA. 22Department of Epidemiology and
Department of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA. *e-mail:
25 OCTOBER 2018 | VOL 562 | NATURE | 519
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... Agriculture must address these environmental challenges while also meeting the needs of a growing global population. Although many political and societal changes could limit future food demand (such as fairer food distribution and reduced animal-product consumption 6,7 ), it must also be assumed that yields of the world's staple crops will, at the very least, need to be maintained 8 . ...
... Input-based, field-scale practices to achieve high yields involve regular and intensive inputs of tillage, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which together can lead to increased carbon emissions and the release of pollutants and soil particulates into surrounding habitats 17,18 . Identifying and upscaling farming practices that decouple high yields from high use of these inputs would therefore facilitate returning to a global 'safe operating space' 2,7 . There is promising evidence that many field-scale EI practices could contribute to this decoupling 11 , such as using legumes to fix nitrogen 19 , diversifying crops to better regulate weeds, pests and diseases 20 , recycling manures to fertilize crops 21 and managing crop residues to improve soil quality 22 . ...
... Currently, average NF rates in Africa are a small fraction of those in Europe, with smallholders in particular using much less than their fair share 45 . References 6,7 both suggest that if fertilizer use is reduced where it is currently high, then fertilizer use could be increased where it is currently low without exceeding planetary boundaries. EI practices could support this redistribution through sustaining yields while reducing fertilizer in current high-input, high-yielding systems and by enhancing yields in combination with moderate fertilizer inputs in currently low-yielding systems. ...
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Ecological intensification (EI) could help return agriculture into a ‘safe operating space’ for humanity. Using a novel application of meta-analysis to data from 30 long-term experiments from Europe and Africa (comprising 25,565 yield records), we investigated how field-scale EI practices interact with each other, and with N fertilizer and tillage, in their effects on long-term crop yields. Here we confirmed that EI practices (specifically, increasing crop diversity and adding fertility crops and organic matter) have generally positive effects on the yield of staple crops. However, we show that EI practices have a largely substitutive interaction with N fertilizer, so that EI practices substantially increase yield at low N fertilizer doses but have minimal or no effect on yield at high N fertilizer doses. EI practices had comparable effects across different tillage intensities, and reducing tillage did not strongly affect yields.
... LCA allows to consider all stages of the agri-food supply chain and can therefore provide a comprehensive view. There is a considerable amount of literature reflecting on the impact of damage occurring to ecosystems and biodiversity on agricultural production, highlighting the importance of the environmental dimension [37][38][39][40]. Nature and ecosystems are the basis for food production, and, at the same time, they can be deteriorated or promoted depending on the kind of management exercised. ...
... The food system has the simultaneous inherent challenge and opportunity of being indispensable. Is the wording of the food system as a "major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems" [38] goal-oriented, or should we rather focus on specific aspects within the food system, which entail avoidable burdens for the environment, society, and local economy? As confirmed by Zdravkovic et al. [42], the cultivation of apples and the energy use for juice processing convey the largest part of environmental impact, independent of the production line when comparing two local solutions. ...
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By combining qualitative scenarios and life cycle assessment (LCA), we place the latter in a larger context. This study outlines the importance of the integration of future perspectives into LCA, and also the significance of taking changes in the environment of technology into account, rather than just technological development itself. Accordingly, we focused on adapting the background system of an attributional LCA in the agri-food sector. The proposed technology was assumed not have evolved in the considered time horizon. In this context, the objectives of this paper were twofold: (i) to methodologically prove the applicability of integrating qualitative scenarios into LCA and (ii) to focus on changes in the background system, which is sometimes overlooked in the context of future-oriented LCA. This allowed to evaluate the future potential of different technologies, assessing their environmental impact under uncertain future developments. Methodologically, the qualitative information from scenarios was transformed into quantitative data, which was successively fed into the life cycle inventory (LCI) of the LCA approach. This point of integration into the second phase of LCA translates into future changes in the entire environment in which a technology is used. This means that qualitatively described scenario narratives need to be converted into value estimates in order to be incorporated into the LCA model. A key conclusion is that changes in the background of an LCA—the changing framework expressed through the inventory database—can be very important for the environmental impact of emerging technologies. This approach was applied to a food processing technology to produce apple juice. The proposed methodology enables technology developers to make their products future-proof and robust against socioeconomic development. In addition, the market perspective, if spelled out in the scenarios, can be integrated, leading to a more holistic picture of LCA with its environmental focus, while simultaneously empowering actors to make the right strategic decisions today, especially when considering the long investment cycles in the agri-food sector.
... In the past few years, there has been a greater focus on the complicated problem of preserving ecosystems while simultaneously sustainably feeding the growing global population. Since research has demonstrated that minimizing production pressures alone would not be adequate to fulfill sustainability goals, the paradigm has changed from 'eco-friendly production' to 'food system sustainability,' which encompasses both production and consumption side enhancements (Roos2017; Springmann et al., 2018). Sustainable farms must be ecologically responsible, commercially viable, and socially acceptable (Rasul & Thapa, 2004). ...
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Sustainable agricultural production is essential for an adequate food supply to feed the global population. One facet of efforts in making the agricultural sector more sustainable is the dramatic increase in organic farming (OF). With its current popularity, people across the globe are increasingly interested in the sustainable performance of organic production. However, accurate and timely information is scarce and there is a lacuna of knowledge among organic farmers about Sustainability Assessment (SA). Many promising SA measurement tools have been developed for the organic farming sector. However, improved procedures and a broader common knowledge are still necessary. In response, this paper provides a comprehensive comparison and scientific underpinning of the prominent tools for assessing farm sustainability to provide support for monitoring sustainable development in OF practices. This comparison can contribute to the adoption of suitable SA tools, and, thereby, the achievement of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development goals by 2030.
... As the global population rises, there is an increasing demand for available food (Fróna, Szenderák & Harangi-Rákos, 2019). The negative impact that this trend has had and will increasingly have on the environment is analyzed by Springmann et al. (2018). Given these findings and others, an increasing number of researchers, policy makers, and industry innovators are attempting to tackle several sustainable development goals -advancing food security jointly -in today's food system. ...
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The underlying assumption throughout this thesis is that the continuity of a cultivated diversity can be strengthened by investigating its sensory qualities and specifying particular culinary utilities of landraces and cultivars. How can a foodstuff’s sensory qualities and culinary utility be explored, tested, and refined together with the food industry and the public meal? This thesis aims to create a path toward sustainable gastronomy with greater sensory variation that originate from a cultivated diversity. The thesis bridges sensory science, culinary arts, and food design, using sensory descriptive methods with consumers as well as trained sensory panelists, consumer tests with different target groups, and a recipe-development process joined up with culinary arts and agriculture. The thesis is based on four papers. Paper One shows that cultivated diversity generates a range of flavors and textures to advance in food and cooking. Paper Two investigates the interacting influence of cultivar, place of cultivation, and year of harvest on the sensory quality of peas. In Paper Three, a recipe development process is modelled and applied to gray peas, showing how appealing plant-based products can be developed. Finally, Paper Four suggests that unique/novel and natural are promising terms to use for plant-based food products, both of which could be strengthened by elements of artisanal but not vegetarian associations. A cyclic investigation and the inclusive continual improvement of a foodstuff’s sensory qualities and culinary utility with purpose and target is proposed and applied in the culinary funnel model (Paper Three), and culinary action as a tool for multi-sectoral cooperation in Paper Four. Since sensory variation is necessary for gastronomic potential, it would be useful to perceive cultivated diversity as a fundamental quality in any cuisine. Who knows which species and cultivars might be favored in the light of climate change, unsustainable resource consumption, and a growing food demand?
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Per anni l’interazione tra scienza e politica è stata rappresentata come una relazione di tipo unidirezionale, nella quale gli scienziati fornirebbero ai politici una conoscenza neutrale, obiettiva e affidabile a supporto del processo decisionale. La complessità delle sfide attuali in cui “i fatti sono incerti, i valori in discussione, gli interessi elevati e le decisioni urgenti”, ha reso questa narrazione inadeguata sul piano della conoscenza e della sua condivisione pubblica. Questo volume racconta il cambiamento di tale interazione a partire dall’approccio della “scienza post-normale” (PNS), proposto negli anni ‘90 da Jerome Ravetz e Silvio Funtowicz. Esso ospita le riflessioni dei due ideatori sull’attualità e sul futuro della PNS e raccoglie i contributi di oltre 50 autrici e autori che esplorano le sfide che la PNS rappresenta sul piano teorico e su quello delle pratiche di ricerca partecipativa e di public engagement diffuse in Italia. Il libro è il primo della Collana Editoriale SCIENZIATI IN AFFANNO? che affronta i cambiamenti in atto nella ricerca in un contesto in cui le relazioni scienza, società e politica sono oggetto di discussione e ridefinizione pubblica.
The aim of this study was to gain an understanding of consumer attitudes and beliefs on three different types of plant-based meat alternatives (covering two highly processed Plant Based Meat Alternatives (PBMA) products: a. vegetarian nuggets and b. soy mince, and pulses: c. pre-cooked beans). The analysis was based on data obtained from a questionnaire-based survey (N = 483) conducted in Sweden in November 2020. Consumers were separated into four food preference groups (all of whom consume meat): 1. flexitarians (meat reducers), 2. omnivores (mixed diet), 3. consumers who prefer meat and fish (avoid vegetarian food) and 4. consumers who explicitly prefer to only eat meat (avoid vegetarian food and fish). Products were chosen with the intention that they represent products from a scale ranging from a less processed product (pre-cooked beans), via soy mince (a processed PBMA product) to vegetarian nuggets (ready-to eat processed PBMA). The two PBMA products were also chosen to represent one convenience product (vegetarian nuggets) and one product mainly used as an ingredient (soy mince). Gender, age, education, consumption frequencies, food neophobia, health concern, ranking of qualities, awareness of climate change, and the link between food and climate were explored. The results illustrate differences and similarities between the four groups in attitudes and beliefs as well as the three products. Flexitarians represent the group that expresses the most positive and sustainably connected attitudes and beliefs. Results also show that for all groups, PBMA products are perceived as more modern, artificial and expensive compared to pulses, which, in turn, are perceived as healthier and a better climate choice compared to PBMA products. Meat and “meat and fish” eaters attach much importance to taste, perceived protein content, satiety and domestic origin (from Sweden), whereas omnivores are guided by taste, ease of cooking, health, climate change, and the link between food and climate. The outcome is expected to support policymakers and market actors in developing target group applied strategies addressing differences among the four food preference groups, thereby increasing consumers’ intake of sustainable plant-based protein-rich products.
Consumer policy must address the unsustainability of consumption which now threatens consumer safety in the form of the climate and ecological crises. Arguably, only strong sustainable consumption governance methods can bring about changes at the scale and speed required. This article discusses one emerging policy tool within strong governance, namely consumption corridors which could bring about absolute reductions in the negative impacts of consumption in a just manner and using deliberative democracy. Consumption corridors are applied in the context of the current meat system, a common driver for the twin crises, and an issue central to achieving the sustainable development, biodiversity, and Paris climate goals. The recently developed planetary health diet offers a useful plan for the transformation of global food systems, and could be combined with sustainable consumption corridors for meat. Systems thinking identifies change in societal paradigms as most effective. To support such change, this article suggests two metaphors as discourse tools, whereby individual and societal transformation in meat consumption occurs as a journey along a continuum of different meatways. The article also suggests specific actions for bringing about meat consumption corridors, and argues that this context could also serve as a bridge for increased societal acceptance of recomposed consumption.
This study aimed to bioconvert of chitin waste biomass into oyster mushroom food and bioethanol through solid-state fermentation with Pleurotus ostreatus. The biological efficiency of the different recipes ranged from 75.66% to 130.61%. Three kinds of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, and N2O) were detected during oyster mushroom cultivation, whereas control group had 17.9% higher CO2 emissions than the shell waste-based formulas. The nutrient enrichment capability of fruiting bodies was demonstrated as follows: N (0.33)>P (0.24)>C (0.1). Among the four shell waste recipes, 50% crayfish shell and 50% chestnut hull were demonstrated to be optimal for the production of P. ostreatus mushrooms and bioethanol fuel. After solid state fermentation, the chitin-protein structure and calcium carbonate in shell waste were depolymerized and degraded and resulting in 24.53% higher than the initial substrate in enzymatic digestibility with chitinase. The highest total theoretical yield of ethanol was 7.72 ml/100 g and N-acetylglucosamine contributes 66.63%. This strategy could help divert excess nutrients in chitin waste biomass away from the environment into protein-rich oyster mushroom food and green biofuels production.
Farming of Rhynchophorus phoenicis has been part of the human race for over 200,000 years as a productive strategy for subsistence living. Despite the remarkable interest generated in recent years, and the studies carried out by scientists in Ghana, insect rearing for food is still in its infant stage and bedeviled with enormous challenges such as managerial, extension service, technology, and marketing. In highlighting these challenges, the confirmatory factor analysis method was used to analyse the challenges facing R. phoenicis larvae farmers in the Ejisu-Juaben Municipality. The purposive sampling technique was used to sample the farmers. Closed and opened ended questionnaires were administered by ten well-trained field enumerators in a face-to-face interview in the selected communities (Donyina, Fumesua, Asotwe, Kubease, and Bomfa). The results highlighted extension, managerial, technology, and marketing as the main components containing sixteen variables with a percentage variation of 70.8% in the production of R. phoenicis larvae. These factors were managerial challenges (25.2%), technological challenges (23.0%), extension services challenges (16.7%), and marketing challenges (6.9%). R. phoenicis larvae have great potential for sustainably providing food and livelihood for the growing population in the Ejisu-Juaben Municipality. However, the various variables under the four main challenges can be addressed by scientists across the country if the government equips and task research institutions such as the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), and the Universities, with resources to come out with technologies that will enhance the production of R. phoenicis larvae in the municipality.
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We explore the role of agriculture in destabilizing the Earth system at the planetary scale, through examining nine planetary boundaries, or "safe limits": land-system change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows, biosphere integrity, climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading, and introduction of novel entities. Two planetary boundaries have been fully transgressed, i.e., are at high risk, biosphere integrity and biogeochemical flows, and agriculture has been the major driver of the transgression. Three are in a zone of uncertainty i.e., at increasing risk, with agriculture the major driver of two of those, land-system change and freshwater use, and a significant contributor to the third, climate change. Agriculture is also a significant or major contributor to change for many of those planetary boundaries still in the safe zone. To reduce the role of agriculture in transgressing planetary boundaries, many interventions will be needed, including those in broader food systems.
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Food lies at the heart of both health and sustainability challenges. We use a social-ecological framework to illustrate how major changes to the volume, nutrition and safety of food systems between 1961 and today impact health and sustainability. These changes have almost halved undernutrition while doubling the proportion who are overweight. They have also resulted in reduced resilience of the biosphere, pushing four out of six analysed planetary boundaries across the safe operating space of the biosphere. Our analysis further illustrates that consumers and producers have become more distant from one another, with substantial power consolidated within a small group of key actors. Solutions include a shift from a volume-focused production system to focus on quality, nutrition, resource use efficiency, and reduced antimicrobial use. To achieve this, we need to rewire food systems in ways that enhance transparency between producers and consumers, mobilize key actors to become biosphere stewards, and re-connect people to the biosphere.
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The report dissects claims made by different stakeholders in the debate about so called ‘grass-fed’ beef, the greenhouse gases the animals emit, and the possibility that, through their grazing actions, they can help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It evaluates these claims and counterclaims against the best available science, providing an authoritative and evidence-based answer to the question: Is grass-fed beef good or bad for the climate?
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Phosphorus (P) plays a vital role in global crop production and food security. In this study, we investigate the changes in soil P pool inventories calibrated from historical countrywide crop P uptake, using a 0.5-by-0.5° spatially explicit model for the period 1900–2010. Globally, the total P pool per hectare increased rapidly between 1900 and 2010 in soils of Europe (+31 %), South America (+2 %), North America (+15 %), Asia (+17 %), and Oceania (+17 %), while it has been stable in Africa. Simulated crop P uptake is influenced by both soil properties (available P and the P retention potential) and crop characteristics (maximum uptake). Until 1950, P fertilizer application had a negligible influence on crop uptake, but recently it has become a driving factor for food production in industrialized countries and a number of transition countries like Brazil, Korea, and China. This comprehensive and spatially explicit model can be used to assess how long surplus P fertilization is needed or how long depletions of built-up surplus P can continue without affecting crop yield.
Background: Sustainable diets are intended to address the increasing health and environmental concerns related to food production and consumption. Although many candidates for sustainable diets have emerged, a consistent and joint environmental and health analysis of these diets has not been done at a regional level. Using an integrated health and environmental modelling framework for more than 150 countries, we examined three different approaches to sustainable diets motivated by environmental, food security, and public health objectives. Methods: In this global modelling analysis, we combined analyses of nutrient levels, diet-related and weight-related chronic disease mortality, and environmental impacts for more than 150 countries in three sets of diet scenarios. The first set, based on environmental objectives, replaced 25–100% of animal-source foods with plant-based foods. The second set, based on food security objectives, reduced levels of underweight, overweight, and obesity by 25–100%. The third set, based on public health objectives, consisted of four energy-balanced dietary patterns: flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan. In the nutrient analysis, we calculated nutrient intake and changes in adequacy based on international recommendations and a global dataset of nutrient content and supply. In the health analysis, we estimated changes in mortality using a comparative risk assessment with nine diet and weight-related risk factors. In the environmental analysis, we combined country-specific and food group-specific footprints for greenhouse gas emissions, cropland use, freshwater use, nitrogen application, and phosphorus application to analyse the relationship between the health and environmental impacts of dietary change. Findings: Following environmental objectives by replacing animal-source foods with plant-based ones was particularly effective in high-income countries for improving nutrient levels, lowering premature mortality (reduction of up to 12% [95% CI 10–13] with complete replacement), and reducing some environmental impacts, in particular greenhouse gas emissions (reductions of up to 84%). However, it also increased freshwater use (increases of up to 16%) and had little effectiveness in countries with low or moderate consumption of animal-source foods. Following food-security objectives by reducing underweight and overweight led to similar reductions in premature mortality (reduction of up to 10% [95% CI 9–11]), and moderately improved nutrient levels. However, it led to only small reductions in environmental impacts at the global level (all impacts changed by <15%), with reduced impacts in high-income and middle-income countries, and increased resource use in low-income countries. Following public health objectives by adopting energy-balanced, low-meat dietary patterns that are in line with available evidence on healthy eating led to an adequate nutrient supply for most nutrients, and large reductions in premature mortality (reduction of 19% [95% CI 18–20] for the flexitarian diet to 22% [18–24] for the vegan diet). It also markedly reduced environmental impacts globally (reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 54–87%, nitrogen application by 23–25%, phosphorus application by 18–21%, cropland use by 8–11%, and freshwater use by 2–11%) and in most regions, except for some environmental domains (cropland use, freshwater use, and phosphorus application) in low-income countries. Interpretation: Approaches for sustainable diets are context specific and can result in concurrent reductions in environmental and health impacts globally and in most regions, particularly in high-income and middle-income countries, but they can also increase resource use in low-income countries when diets diversify. A public health strategy focused on improving energy balance and dietary changes towards predominantly plant-based diets that are in line with evidence on healthy eating is a suitable approach for sustainable diets. Updating national dietary guidelines to reflect the latest evidence on healthy eating can by itself be important for improving health and reducing environmental impacts and can complement broader and more explicit criteria of sustainability. Funding: Wellcome Trust, EAT, CGIAR, and British Heart Foundation. © 2018 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an Open Access article under the CC BY 4.0 license
The global food system faces an ambitious challenge in meeting nutritional demands whilst reducing sector greenhouse gas emissions. These challenges exemplify dietary inequalities—an issue countries have committed to ending in accord with the Sustainable Development Goals (by 2030). Achieving this will require a convergence of global diets towards healthy, sustainable guidelines. Here we have assessed the implications of dietary guidelines (the World Health Organization, USA, Australian, Canadian, German Chinese and Indian recommendations) on global greenhouse gas emissions. Our results show a wide disparity in the emissions intensity of recommended healthy diets, ranging from 687 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) capita⁻¹ yr⁻¹ for the guideline Indian diet to the 1579 kg CO2e capita⁻¹ yr⁻¹ in the USA. Most of this variability is introduced in recommended dairy intake. Global convergence towards the recommended USA or Australian diet would result in increased greenhouse gas emissions relative to the average business-as-usual diet in 2050. The majority of current national guidelines are highly inconsistent with a 1.5 °C target, and incompatible with a 2 °C budget unless other sectors reach almost total decarbonisation by 2050. Effective decarbonisation will require a major shift in not only dietary preferences, but also a reframing of the recommendations which underpin this transition.
Global food demand is expected to increase, affecting required land, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) inputs along with unintended emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG) and losses of N and P. To quantify these input requirements and associated emissions/losses as a function of food demand, we built a comprehensive model of the food system and investigated the effects of multiple interventions in the food system on multiple environmental goals. Model outcomes are compared to planetary boundaries for land system change, climate change and the global N and P cycles to identify interventions that direct us towards a safe operating space for humanity. Results show a transgression of most boundaries already for 2010 and a drastic deterioration in the reference scenario for 2050 in which no improvements relative to 2010 were implemented. We defined the following improvements for 2050: reduction of waste, less consumption of animal products, higher feed conversion efficiency, higher crop and grassland yields, reduction of N and P losses from agricultural land and reduction of ammonia (NH3) volatilization. The effects of these measures were quantified individually and in combination. Significant trade-offs and synergies in our results underline the importance of a comprehensive analysis with respect to the entire food system, including multiple measures and environmental goals. The combination of all measures was able to partly prevent transgression of the boundaries for: agricultural area requirement, GHG emission and P flow into the ocean. However, global mineral N and P fertilizer inputs and total N loss to air and water still exceeded their boundaries in our study. The planetary boundary concept is discussed in relation to the selected variables and boundary values, including the additional necessity of eliminating the dependency of our food production on finite P reserves. We argue that total N loss is a better indicator of the environmental impacts of the global N cycle than fertilizer N input. Most measures studied in this paper are also on the agenda of the United Nations for Sustainable Development, which gives added support to their implementation.
The notion of a 'safe operating space for biodiversity' is vague and encourages harmful policies. Attempts to fix it strip it of all meaningful content. Ecology is rapidly gaining insights into the connections between biodiversity and ecosystem stability. We have no option but to understand ecological complexity and act accordingly.
Tens of thousands of species are threatened with extinction as a result of human activities. Here we explore how the extinction risks of terrestrial mammals and birds might change in the next 50 years. Future population growth and economic development are forecasted to impose unprecedented levels of extinction risk on many more species worldwide, especially the large mammals of tropical Africa, Asia and South America. Yet these threats are not inevitable. Proactive international efforts to increase crop yields, minimize land clearing and habitat fragmentation, and protect natural lands could increase food security in developing nations and preserve much of Earth's remaining biodiversity. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved.
Technical Report
This report provides a quantitative assessment of the impacts of alternative investment options on the CGIAR’s SLOs (relating to poverty – SLO1, food and nutrition security – SLO2, and natural resources and ecosystem services – SLO3) in the context of changes in population, income, technology, and climate to 2050 as well as for key SDGs of importance to the developing world. The report serves as a source of information and evidence of the impact of CGIAR efforts in agricultural R&D as well as the role of complementary investments. It is intended to help the CGIAR Centers, CG Research Programs (CRP), system management, and donors to complement other efforts to assess the overall impact and benefits of investing in international and national agricultural research programs. Available online at: