Food, energy and water: this is what the United Nations refers to as the ‘nexus’ of sustainable development.
As the world’s population has expanded and gotten richer, the demand for all three has seen a rapid increase. Not only has demand for all three increased, but they are also strongly interlinked: food production requires water and energy; water power can be used as a source of energy; agriculture provides a potential energy source.
Ensuring everyone in the world has access to a nutritious diet in a sustainable way is one of the greatest challenges we face.
Key insights on the Environmental Impacts of Food
Food production has a large environmental impact in several ways
What are the environmental impacts of food and agriculture?
The visualization here shows a summary of some of the main global impacts:
- Food production accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture. Habitable land is the land that is ice- and desert-free.
- 70% of global freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture.
- 78% of global ocean and freshwater eutrophication is caused by agriculture. Eutrophication is the pollution of waterways with nutrient-rich water.
- 94% of non-human mammal biomass is livestock. This means livestock outweigh wild mammals by a factor of 15-to-1.
- 71% of bird biomass is poultry livestock. This means livestock outweigh wild mammals by a factor of more than 3-to-1.
Tackling what we eat, and how we produce our food, plays a key role in tackling climate change, reducing water stress and pollution, restoring lands back to forests or grasslands, and protecting the world’s wildlife.
Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2022) – “Environmental Impacts of Food Production”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food‘ [Online Resource]