The environmental impacts of the food system (the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding the global population) could increase by 50–90% between 2010 and 2050 if no action is taken to counteract the expected changes in population and income levels. These findings are published online this week in Nature. The authors analyse several options for reducing these impacts and find that no single measure can sufficiently mitigate the projected increase in environmental pressures, and a combined approach is required.
Marco Springmann and colleagues constructed a global food-systems model with country-level detail to study food-related environmental impacts. Using their model and estimates of current and future food demand, the authors quantified food-related environmental impacts in 2010 and 2050 for five environmental domains: greenhouse gas emissions related to climate change, cropland use related to land-system change, freshwater use of surface and groundwater, and nitrogen and phosphorus application. They project that the environmental pressure of the food system will increase by 50-92% for each indicator by 2050 in the absence of technological changes and other mitigation measures.
The authors analysed several options for reducing the environmental impacts of the food system, including dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management (such as increases in agricultural yields and improvements in water management), and reductions in food loss and waste. Their analysis indicates that much of the increase in environmental pressures that is expected to occur by 2050 could be mitigated if these measures were combined.