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Professor warns climate change will make food less nutritious

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Vegetables at a shop in Budapest, Hungary. Photo: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

An environmental scientist has warned global leaders at Davos the quality of food will decline worldwide if humans fail to adequately tackle climate change.

Johan Rockström, one of the world’s leading sustainability experts, said climate change undermined food supply chains by melting Arctic ice disrupting air currents and causing droughts.

But he said there is a “path through” to feed a growing global population while meeting climate targets, amid concerns at an “exponential rise” in environmentally damaging livestock farming in recent decades.

The Stockholm University professor said studies showed deaths from nutritional deficiencies could rise globally as a result of poorer quality food, with agriculture struggling to cope with more droughts.

READ MORE: Expert warns London will flood if temperatures rise by two degrees

“Not only will yields go down, the quality of food will also go down,” said Rockström at a panel event at the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s annual summit of world leaders in Switzerland.

“If we continue with climate change, it’s not only that it’s impacting on production, we start seeing impact on the quality of food. We get less nutritional value under different levels of global warming.

“That’s the challenge we’re facing – and we have the challenge of feeding 10 billion people.”

A planetary health plate should consist by volume of approximately half a plate of vegetables and fruits, according to experts. Photo: EAT-Lancet Commission

But he said it was “exciting” that healthier diets could both feed the world and reduce emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. He highlighted research he was involved in published in The Lancet on the “planetary health plate.”

He said healthy plates, made up of more plant rather than meat proteins, more plant-based oils, more wholegrain and less sugar, sodium and starchy vegetables, would make a significant difference. Around half a plate should be fruit and vegetables, according to the research.

“We can actually feed 10 billion people on current farmland, and deliver on the Paris Agreement,” he said.

The event was entitled ‘Feeding the planet for the future,’ with organisers highlighting an expected 35% increase in demand on the global food system by 2030.

The WEF summit takes place every year in the town of Davos, a ski resort in the Swiss Alps.

More than 3,000 guests are attending Davos 2020 throughout this week. “Stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world” is the official theme, with climate change in particular high on the agenda.

Organisers hope the annual event will facilitate discussion and collaboration to tackle major international issues among some of the most powerful people in the world.

But the summit, typically labelled ‘Davos’ after the host town, has become a lightning rod for criticism of global capitalism and the world’s elite.