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Consumption, climate change and agriculture

16/12/2016 - The holiday season is in full swing and many enjoy the opportunity to feast – or to make new year resolutions for a healthier diet. What we eat is more than a private decision – the agriculture and land use sector is one of the central players in ambitious climate change mitigation efforts. Yet, mitigation policies in agriculture may conflict with food security. A team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research analyzed the impacts on food prices under mitigation policies – targeting either incentives for producers or consumer preferences. They show that policy instruments to mitigate climate change with an educational approach to change food preferences can avoid unwanted impacts of climate change mitigation measures on food security.
Consumption, climate change and agriculture

Education on food consumption is very important for climate change mitigation. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The most urgent UN sustainable development goals – poverty, hunger and health – are related to food consumption and food prices. Furthermore, the agriculture and land use sector plays an important role in combating climate change, being itself responsible for 21−24% of total annual greenhouse-gas emissions. In their new study, the scientists analyzed how shifts in preferences for agricultural products can stabilize and lower food prices while having a similar effect in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions as a carbon tax policy does. Preference-based mitigation, such as reduced household waste or lower consumption of animal-based products, decreases land scarcity, prevents emissions leakage and concentrates production on the most productive sites and consequently lowers food prices.

"The beauty of our findings is that you don´t have to wait for policy makers to follow up on their promises to save the climate. While it´s important to mitigate emissions in all sectors, agriculture and landuse play a vital role – and it´s on everyone´s plate to change their patterns of consumption and to reduce household waste," says lead-author Miodrag Stevanović of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "Our study shows that education on food consumption is very important for climate change mitigation. Caring about food makes people waste less, which can also save them money."

“Governments could effectively fight climate change by targeting preferences for food,” adds Alexander Popp, co-author and leader of the research group who conducted the study at PIK. “Education on food consumption and market transparency are not necessarily very costly measures.”

Article: Miodrag Stevanović, Alexander Popp, Benjamin Leon Bodirsky, Florian Humpenöder, Christoph Müller, Isabelle Weindl, Jan Philipp Dietrich, Hermann Lotze-Campen, Ulrich Kreidenweis, Susanne Rolinski, Anne Biewald, Xiaoxi Wang: Mitigation strategies for greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land-use change: Consequences for food prices. Environmental Science & Technology 2016. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04291

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