News Release

Global food system could help achieve net negative emissions by 2050

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Largescale changes to the global food system could enable people not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to achieve net negative emissions by 2050. A team led by Maya Almaraz of Princeton University and Benjamin Houlton of Cornell University report these findings in a new study published September 6 in the open-access journal PLOS Climate.

Currently, the global food system is responsible for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. There are multiple opportunities within the food system to reduce emissions, and some have proposed that agriculture could act as a sink to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reach net negative emissions.

In the new study, researchers used a global food system model to explore how consumer choices, climate-smart technologies and reductions in food waste would each contribute to achieving net negative emissions by 2050. They estimate that, in a world of 10 billion people, a complete food system transformation could remove the equivalent of up to 33 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year. The greatest benefits would come from a shift toward a plant-based diet and the use of new technologies such as greener fertilizer production, advanced livestock feeds, agroforestry and sustainable seafood harvesting.

The study’s findings highlight the potential for future food systems to help countries meet their climate change emissions targets. This makes agriculture a unique economic sector that should be a key focus when discussing climate charge mitigation. For best effect, the researchers recommend that these approaches should be tailored to fit the local culture, economics, technology readiness and agricultural management capacities of each region.

The authors add: “We find evidence that dietary shifts cannot achieve negative emissions alone, whereas technology deployment and management can, absent dietary changes.”


In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS Climate:

Citation: Almaraz M, Houlton BZ, Clark M, Holzer I, Zhou Y, Rasmussen L, et al. (2023) Model-based scenarios for achieving net negative emissions in the food system. PLOS Clim 2(9): e0000181.

Author Countries: Denmark, Kenya, Malaysia, UK, USA

Funding: The Rockefeller Foundation provided funding to B.S.H. and M.H. support this research as well as salary for M.A. and E.M.. The World Wildlife Fund organized the research team in collaboration with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. M.C. received funding from the Wellcome Trust, Our Planet Our Health (Livestock, Environment and People - LEAP), award number 205212/Z/16/Z. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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