Global Shift to Sustainable Food Systems Could Yield $10 Trillion Annual Benefits, Study Reveals

by Ella

In a groundbreaking economic study, researchers argue that a transition towards a sustainable global food system could generate up to $10 trillion (£7.9tn) in annual benefits. This comprehensive examination, the most extensive of its kind, asserts that such a shift not only promises economic gains but also offers improvements in human health and addresses the pressing issue of climate change.

The study contends that existing food systems, laden with hidden environmental and medical costs, ultimately destroy more value than they create. This approach, borrowing from the future to secure short-term profits, is deemed unsustainable and detrimental in the long run.


At the heart of the issue is the fact that current food systems contribute to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, propelling the world towards a projected 2.7°C temperature increase by the century’s end. This creates a destructive cycle, wherein rising temperatures lead to extreme weather events, causing significant damage to harvests.


The economic study also highlights the strain on medical systems caused by food insecurity. If the status quo persists, it predicts that, by 2050, 640 million people will be underweight, and obesity will surge by 70%.


The proposed solution involves a politically challenging but economically and welfare-beneficial shift in subsidies and tax incentives. This would redirect support from large-scale monocultures, dependent on harmful practices like fertilizers, pesticides, and deforestation, to smallholders. These smallholders could transform their farms into carbon sinks, fostering biodiversity.


A change in dietary habits and investment in technologies for increased efficiency and reduced emissions are also integral components of the proposed transition.

The study posits that such a shift could eliminate undernutrition by 2050, preventing 174 million premature deaths, and enabling 400 million farmworkers to earn a sufficient income. Additionally, it could help limit global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and halve nitrogen run-offs from agriculture.

Despite estimating the transformation’s costs at 0.2% to 0.4% of global GDP per year, the authors argue that the economic and welfare benefits far outweigh these expenses.

Johan Rockström, one of the study’s authors from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, emphasized the pivotal role of the global food system, stating, “The global food system holds the future of humanity on Earth in its hand.”

The suggested changes align with the broader goals of sustainability, urging a shift away from destructive practices towards more environmentally friendly and socially responsible approaches.

In conclusion, this study, aiming to be the food equivalent of the influential Stern review on climate change, suggests that embracing a sustainable food system is not only an economic opportunity but a necessity for safeguarding the planet’s future and the well-being of its inhabitants.



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