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Changes in global food consumption increase GHG emissions despite efficiency gains along global supply chains

15 June 2023

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to food consumption complement production-based or territorial accounts by capturing carbon leaked through trade. Here we evaluate global consumption-based food emissions between 2000 and 2019 and underlying drivers using a physical trade flow approach and structural decomposition analysis. In 2019, emissions throughout global food supply chains reached 30 ±9% of anthropogenic GHG emissions, largely triggered by beef and dairy consumption in rapidly developing countries—while per capita emissions in developed countries with a high percentage of animal-based food declined. Emissions outsourced through international food trade dominated by beef and oil crops increased by ~1 Gt CO2 equivalent, mainly driven by increased imports by developing countries. Population growth and per capita demand increase were key drivers to the global emissions increase (+30% and +19%, respectively) while decreasing emissions intensity from land-use activities was the major factor to offset emissions growth (−39%). Climate change mitigation may depend on incentivizing consumer and producer choices to reduce emissions-intensive food products.

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Last modified:27 February 2024 11.03 a.m.

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