17 September 2019

Landmark report outlines critical transitions for transforming food and land use

A new report released by the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) is the first to assess the benefits of transforming global food and land use systems, as well as the mounting costs of inaction. The authors call on world leaders to act now and advance the economic case for change.

© Paop | Dreamstime.com

© Paop | Dreamstime.com

The report titled, Growing better: Ten critical transitions to transform food and land use, argues that ten transitions need to take place to put food and land use systems on sustainable trajectories. The authors disclose benefits that far outweigh the costs, and propose a concrete reform agenda. The critical transitions outlined stand to unlock US$4.5 trillion in new business opportunities each year by 2030, while at the same time saving costs of US$5.7 trillion a year in damage to people and the planet – more than 15 times the investment cost of up to 350 billion a year. 

According to Jeremy Oppenheim, FOLU principal and co-lead author of the report, this is the closest to a win-win the world will get while also reaping huge social, economic, and environmental benefits. He says that the report proves for the first time that it is possible – indeed economically attractive – to feed 9 billion people with nutritious diets within planetary boundaries, and to do so in a way that is good for rural communities. The only question is whether this agenda is supported by the necessary political will and business leadership. He adds that we can either seize the opportunity to transform our food and land use systems or sleep-walk our way into an ecological and human disaster. 

Food and land use systems are currently responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are the leading cause of damage to forests and other natural habitats. Nature-based solutions, including more sustainable agriculture and forest protection, stand to offer a third of the climate solution. The report further shows that regenerative farming alone could reap benefits of US$1.2 trillionper year by 2030. The ten transitions outlined in the report include, but are not limited to, measures to protect and restore nature and climate, empower and protect indigenous communities, finance nature-based solutions, promote a diverse and healthy diet, reduce waste, and strengthen rural economies. 

Commenting on the new report, FOLU global report lead author and editor Per Pharo, explained that there is no system level trade-off between food production and environmental protection and that even with a growing global population it should be made clear that there is enough land to provide nutritious diets for all while at the same time protecting and restoring nature, slashing greenhouse gas emissions, and delivering better, more inclusive development. This can be done by halting and then reversing the destruction of forests and other natural ecosystems, protecting biodiversity, and improving freshwater and ocean health and productivity. The report shows that these strong health and development gains can be achieved without further encroachment on nature, and in fact sparing 1.5 billion hectares of land which would otherwise have been used for agriculture.

The analytics of the report where supported by the IIASA Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM)

“The scenarios calculated for the report emphasize the importance of looking at the multidimensional interactions between different single measures. It is striking to see how much switching towards healthier diets contributes to simultaneously reaching climate change mitigation, biodiversity protection, and food security goals,” notes IIASA researcher, Andre Deppermann, who led the modeling efforts for the report.

“We have to embrace the complexity of the food and land use system. Systems analysis can help us identify synergies and manage trade-offs between the different development and environmental objectives in the land use space. This report underscores the need for integrated thinking in shaping sustainable solutions”, adds Michael Obersteiner, senior researcher and FOLU CPG Institutional Lead at IIASA.

The report calls for collective action to unlock the potential for better food and land use systems, including through policy reform, country-led action, and individual engagement in support of the critical transitions. Many solutions are already in existence but are in need of support and funding to scale. 

Adapted from a press release originally sent out by SYSTEMIQ on behalf of the FOLU coalition.

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Last edited: 17 September 2019


Michael Obersteiner

Principal Research Scholar Exploratory Modeling of Human-natural Systems Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program


Andre Deppermann

Research Scholar Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group - Biodiversity and Natural Resources Program

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