German institute calls for localized food production to help reduce CO2 emissions

Around 35 percent of urban residents across the world could be nourished by utilizing local land resources, according to a study published by the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

The researchers noted that agricultural goods were “transported all around the globe across all distances” to provide urban citizens with nourishment.

“Already, this comes with an enormous ‘food-print’ and we know that a growing world population not only means growing urban infrastructures but also growing resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions,” noted the study’s co-author, Prajal Pradhan.

The researchers identified urban growth as the factor that would have “the strongest impact on future urban food demand”, followed by dietary changes.

“A large number of urban residents in many parts of the world could be nourished by local agriculture,” said the study.

On a global scale, the researchers noted that the local food production situation was quite diverse as regions like southern Asia could benefit a lot from local agricultural production.

“Of course, feeding our cities by local agriculture is not a switch we could simply flip, and self-sufficient cities would not be able to just duplicate what is on our plates today,” cautioned the study’s lead author, Steffen Kriewald.

Nonetheless, while regional agriculture could not produce “all foods on our menu in a globalized food world”, nutrition requirements could be met in many parts of the world, Kriewald said.

Optimized local production could decrease emissions from food transport by a factor of ten, which could reduce global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 4 percent, according to Juergen Kropp, the study’s co-author and deputy chair of PIK’s Climate Resilience Research Department.

This was even “a conservative figure”, said Kropp, given that air transport had not been included in the study due to the lack of available data.

Local production would therefore “reduce the dependence on global food production chains” as well as act “as a kind of adaptation”, Kropp said.

“Growing numbers of urban, often young, people enjoy local food because they want to know how their food was produced and traded,” Germanwatch expert Reinhild Benning told Xinhua.

The Potsdam study showed that these young urbanites “are on the right track” and that there is significant “potential for climate protection and food sovereignty”, Benning said.

In their study, however, the Potsdam researchers warned that if climate change, urban population growth and lifestyle changes kept accelerating, “this could completely change the picture and take the option off the table”.

According to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the food system accounted for up to 30 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, 80 percent of global deforestation was attributable to the food system, mainly due to the increasing number of livestock, according to the IPCC.

“With their daily food purchases or restaurant visits, consumers have a great influence on whether agriculture will be climate-friendly, resource-saving and species-protecting,” Stephanie Toewe, agricultural expert at Greenpeace Germany, told Xinhua.

“If we continue to maintain the current food mix, we will not be able to leave our children and grandchildren with an earth that can feed the world’s growing population healthily,” Toewe warned.

Kropp concluded that “cities are at the heart of the climate problem and pivotal for sustainable future development.”