Simultaneously feeding a more populous world, fostering development and poverty reduction, and mitigating climate change and other environmental damage, presents a set of deeply intertwined challenges.
If millions of farmers, businesses, consumers, and all governments act together, it will be possible to feed a growing global population while reducing carbon emissions, according to research from US-based environmental think tank the World Resources Institute (WRI).
The report highlights the challenge of feeding the world’s population over the next 30 years.
As the global population grows from seven billion in 2010 to a projected 9.8 billion in 2050, and incomes grow across the developing world, overall food demand is on course to increase by more than 50 percent, and demand for animal-based foods by nearly 70 percent, it states.
If today’s production levels were to remain constant during that time, then feeding the planet would lead to the clearing of most of the world’s remaining forests, wiping out thousands more species, and releasing enough greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to exceed the 1.5°C and 2°C warming targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement, even if emissions from all other human activities were entirely eliminated, researchers found.
“Simultaneously feeding a more populous world, fostering development and poverty reduction, and mitigating climate change and other environmental damage, presents a set of deeply intertwined challenges,” the WRI states.
However, researchers believe that the scope for potential solutions to these issues is often underestimated. The report outlines a menu of options that could lead to a sustainable food future.
These include raising efficiency of production; managing demand by reducing food waste and shifting diets towards plant-based foods; and reducing GHGs from sources such as nitrogen fertilisers and energy use.
Finally, the WRI recommends speeding up technological innovations that have already been demonstrated in several areas, including additives that reduce methane emissions from rice and cattle, solar-based processes for making fertilisers, organic sprays that preserve food for longer, and plant-based beef substitutes.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for The Ecologist. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.