The Environmental Food Crisis: the environment’s role in averting future food crises

16-02-2009 | Publication

A new rapid response assessment report released by United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) warns that up to 25% of the world’s food production may be lost by 2050, due to environmental breakdown, unless action is taken. The report provides the first United Nations summary of how climate change, water stress, invasive pests, and land degradation, may impact world food security, food prices, and life on the planet, and how we may be able to feed the world in a more sustainable manner.


Although fuel prices have dropped sharply since the peak of July 2008, current projections expect food prices to remain at a high level. Demand for food products will increase in the coming decades, due to population growth and increasing meat consumption. Although world food production rose substantially in the past century, yields have nearly stabilised for cereals and declined for fisheries, in the past decade. Land degradation, urban expansion and biofuel policies cause potential agricultural areas to decrease in size. In addition, degradation due to unsustainable resource use, water stress caused by climate change, and a rise and spread of invasive pests, may substantially depress yields in the future. These developments could reduce the world’s food production in 2050, by up to 25%.

The report also analyses current world food security and the socio-economic developments needed to strengthen the availability, accessibility and stability of the food supply. Dependence on trade, poor investments and lack of resources are key factors in food availability. To ensure accessibility of the food market, the emphasis should be on access and low food prices. Finally, an increase in farmers’ willingness to invest and the avoidance of conflicts would also increase the stability of supply.

The report concludes that we need to get smart and more creative about recycling food wastes and fish discards into animal feed. While major efforts have gone into increasing efficiency in the traditional energy sector, food energy efficiency has received too little attention. Resilient agro-ecosystems can play an important role here. Besides, structural changes in the agricultural markets and limiting climate change impacts could both help to decrease future pressures on food markets.