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Environmental and Agricultural Impacts of Dietary Shifts at Global and National Scales

The Food, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Land-Use, and Energy (FABLE) Consortium, hosted by SDSN and the Food and Land-Use Coalition (FOLU), is launching a policy brief series intended to advise national governments on sustainable food and land-use pathways. The first brief, entitled “Environmental and agricultural impacts of dietary shifts at global and national scales'' was published on July 27, 2021. The purpose of this analysis is to examine the implications of healthier dietary shifts on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, deforestation, and agricultural production and trade, should these shifts take place.

It has been long known that diets are a major determinant for human and planetary health. With the human population growing exponentially, the demands for food have created major environmental degradation. In addition, current dietary trends have led to a significant global burden of noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes. To assess the role of dietary shifts in global sustainability, this FABLE brief presents modeled dietary changes across three pathways through the FABLE national-to-global modeling framework.

  1. Current Trends (CT) depicts the lower boundary of feasible action towards environmental sustainability with a future based on current policy and historical trends.
  2. Sustainable corresponds to a high boundary of feasible action towards environmental sustainability, including the adoption of healthier diets in 15 FABLE countries and 6 rest of the world regions.
  3. Healthy Diets only applies the shift towards healthier diets that is assumed in the Sustainable pathway to the CT pathway.

The results of these models allowed the FABLE teams to assess the contribution of dietary changes towards the achievement of two key global sustainability targets: GHG emissions from agriculture and land-use changes compatible with the Paris Climate agreement; and zero net deforestation globally after 2030. What does this mean for agriculture production and trade? Analyzing these implications is especially important for countries who have higher intake of animal-sourced food and an ambition to promote a dietary shift in their population. Such shifts could require significant changes in crop rotations that might increase pressure on local water resources, especially where the production of fruits, vegetables and nuts is expected to increase, and could lead to large abandonment of agricultural land.

By modeling these pathways and anticipating these dietary shifts, system-wide implications can be highlighted to help countries prepare for this transition.

Read the Brief
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