Researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre have determined that a global population of 10 billion people could be fed sustainably by 2050. According to the study, this would require a shift toward more plant-based diets, reducing food loss and waste by half, and improving farming practices and technologies.
According to the researchers, adopting these sustainable practices on a global scale could reduce the risk of exceeding environmental limits related to: climate change, the use of agricultural land, the extraction of freshwater resources, and the pollution of ecosystems through overapplication of fertilizers.
Dr. Marco Springmann of the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford is the study’s lead author.
“No single solution is enough to avoid crossing planetary boundaries. But when the solutions are implemented together, our research indicates that it may be possible to feed the growing population sustainably,” said Dr. Springmann.
“Without concerted action, we found that the environmental impacts of the food system could increase by 50-90% by 2050 as a result of population growth and the rise of diets high in fats, sugars and meat. In that case, all planetary boundaries related to food production would be surpassed, some of them by more than twofold.”
The study combined environmental accounts with a model of the global food system that tracks the production and consumption of food across the world. Using this model, the researchers identified ways to keep the food system within the Earth’s limitations.
“Improving farming technologies and management practices will require increasing investment in research and public infrastructure, the right incentive schemes for farmers, including support mechanisms to adopt best available practices, and better regulation, for example of fertilizer use and water quality,” said study co-author Line Gordon.
Fabrice de Clerck is the director of science at the EAT foundation, which funded the study.
“Tackling food loss and waste will require measures across the entire food chain, from storage, and transport, over food packaging and labeling to changes in legislation and business behavior that promote zero-waste supply chains,” said de Clerck.
Dr. Springmann concluded: “When it comes to diets, comprehensive policy and business approaches are essential to make dietary changes towards healthy and more plant-based diets possible and attractive for a large number of people.”
“Important aspects include school and workplace programs, economic incentives and labeling, and aligning national dietary guidelines with the current scientific evidence on healthy eating and the environmental impacts of our diet.”
The study is published in the journal Nature.