Proponents of degrowth have long argued that economic growth is detrimental to the environment. Now scientists show that concerning the food sector, curbing growth alone would not make our food system sustainable – but changing what we eat and putting a price on carbon would. In a first, a group led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) used a quantitative food and land system model to gauge the effects of degrowth and efficiency proposals on the food sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. They find that combining a dietary shift, emissions pricing, and international income transfers could make the world’s food system emissions-neutral by the end of the 21st century – providing at the same time a healthier nutrition for a growing world population.

“Just shrinking the size of our current food system won’t cut emissions much. Instead, we need to transform the very nature of that global food system,” says Benjamin Bodirsky, researcher at PIK and the World Vegetable Center in Tainan, Taiwan and author of the study. “That means on the one hand that people consume what they need in terms of nutritional requirements, curb food waste and eat a more balanced diet, with much more vegetables and less animal products. On the other hand, a qualitative transformation means more efficiency, hence producing food in a less-polluting way: smarter dosing of fertilizers or planting higher-yield crops. Also, carbon pricing could help steer farmers towards lower-emission agricultural practices, because emitting less then means paying less. Put together, this could drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The way we produce food and manage our land is responsible for up to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions along the entire supply chain. “So we looked at what this system would look like in a hypothetical degrowth world: On the basis of a review of degrowth proposals, we created a set of scenarios to feed into a food and land systems computer simulation to explore their effect on the food system,” David Chen, researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and author of the study, explains.

Read the full article about food systems and economic growth at Environmental News Network.