The Greenhouse Gas Footprint of China's Food System: An Analysis of Recent Trends and Future Scenarios
15 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 2016
Food chain systems (FCSs), which begin in agricultural production and end in consumption and waste disposal, play a significant role in China's rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This article uses scenario analysis to show China's potential trajectories to a low‐carbon FCS. Between 1996 and 2010, the GHG footprint of China's FCSs increased from 1,308 to 1,618 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO‐eq), although the emissions intensity of all food categories, except for aquatic food, recorded steep declines. We project three scenarios to 2050 based on historical trends and plausible shifts in policies and environmental conditions: reference scenario; technology improvement scenario; and low GHG emissions scenario. The reference scenario is based on existing trends and exhibits a large growth in GHG emissions, increasing from 1,585 Mt CO‐eq in 2010 to 2,505 Mt CO‐eq in 2050. In the technology improvement scenario, emissions growth is driven by rising food demand, but that growth will be counterbalanced by gains in agricultural technology, causing GHG emissions to fall to 1,413 Mt CO‐eq by 2050. Combining technology improvement with the shift to healthier dietary patterns, GHG emissions in the low GHG emissions scenario will decline to 946 Mt CO‐eq in 2050, a drop of 41.5% compared with the level in 2010. We argue that these are realistic projections and are indeed indicative of China's overall strategy for low‐carbon development. Improving agricultural technology and shifting to a more balanced diet could significantly reduce the GHG footprint of China's FCSs. Furthermore, the transition to a low‐carbon FCS has potential cobenefits for land sustainability and public health.
Keywords: agriculture, China, climate change, food consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, scenario analysis
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