Global Nutrition Study: Can “Degrowth” Satisfy World Hunger and Protect the Climate? – Knowledge

A farmer harvests his wheat field on the outskirts of Amritsar in the northern Indian state of Punjab.  Photo: AFP/Narinder Nanu
© AFP/Narinder Nanu

Sinan Recber

Researchers have examined whether an alternative economic model reduces emissions in agriculture and have come to sobering conclusions.

How can humanity feed the world’s growing population while protecting the climate and respecting planetary boundaries? Proponents of the “degrowth” theory believe that this will only work if the world says goodbye to the ever-growing economy model and people in richer countries build a good life with less consumption, production and money in general.

According to “degrowth” advocates, such a revolution would help reduce climate-damaging emissions and use the remaining farmland on earth to provide humanity with a sustainable supply.

A team led by scientists Benjamin Bodirsky and David Chen from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research tested these assumptions for the first time in a study of the global food system. The results of the specialized magazine “Nature Food” show that less money for people in rich countries and more money for people in poor countries would hardly lead to greater climate protection in the current food system. The reason for this is that higher incomes in poor countries promote climate-damaging diets, such as increased consumption of meat and cheese.

However, in one of the six scenarios examined, emissions of climate-damaging greenhouse gases fell significantly: if humanity wasted less food and consumed less animal products such as meat and cheese by 2030 so as not to exceed planetary limits. In another scenario, CO₂ emissions in the global food system fell, even if its emissions cost something according to the 1.5 degree climate target.

Such a CO₂ price would mean that flour, tomatoes or sausages, for example, would become more expensive or remain cheap, depending on how much climate-damaging CO₂ their production causes. Such a move would take into account the cost of climate pollution and encourage people to eat or produce their food in a more climate-friendly way.

Climate-neutral food system by 2100

As expected, a combination of several measures brought the best results in climate protection: less meat and milk, less food waste, a CO₂ price and that poorer countries are supported by richer countries with transfer payments. international.

Livestock farming is responsible for large emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is particularly damaging to the climate.  Photo: dpa


Livestock farming is responsible for large emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is particularly damaging to the climate.
© dpa

In this way, in the scenario, emissions from agriculture would be reduced from 14.4 gigatons of CO₂ emissions in 2020 to 1.18 gigatons of CO₂ emissions in 2050. According to the researchers, in the remaining 50 years there will be enough land to reforest and allow forests to grow or other ecosystems to thrive.

Natural climate savers would bind CO₂ from the atmosphere and offset unavoidable greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide from fertilizers and methane from livestock elsewhere. By 2100, the global food system would be climate neutral, meaning no climate-damaging emissions.

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Of the mentioned climate protection measures, the CO₂ price is well known in Germany: A national CO₂ price already makes fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel more expensive in the transport sector and heating oil and natural gas in the construction sector. The European price of CO₂ takes effect in the energy sector and makes climate-damaging coal power plants in particular unprofitable, making wind and solar systems increasingly competitive. In Germany, however, agriculture has so far been exempt from the CO₂ price.

The research paper is one of the rather rare analyzes that use calculations to probe “degrowth” hypotheses about climate protection and planetary boundaries, in this case, the global food system. In recent years, economic debates have gained momentum about the need for “degrowth”, that is, about the question of whether the economy of the richer countries in particular should contract and whether prosperity should be achieved in some other way than be through increased consumption and production, so that humanity does not lose its livelihood destroyed.

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