Reconciling global sustainability targets and local action for food production and climate change mitigation

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) imply country-led implementation. Yet, their achievement depends on sustainability targets compatible across different sectors and scales. Our study examines how the GHG emission intensity of agriculture (EIA) should evolve globally, regionally (Western Europe) and nationally (The Netherlands) under different socioeconomic pathways, so that two major aims of SDGs 2 and 13 (i.e. sufficient food production and climate change mitigation) are achieved simultaneously.

Results show that, by 2050, relative to 2010 values, EIA should decrease at all three levels when measured on a product basis (GHG emissions per ton dry matter) and on a land basis (GHG emissions per ha). This indicates that, globally, agriculture should be intensified per unit area, while in Western Europe and even more so in the Netherlands additional emission reductions require increased production efficiency and lower production volumes. Projected reductions in methane and nitrous oxide emissions from enteric fermentation, manure management and fertilizer application in Dutch agriculture are much higher than what would be achieved through the extrapolation of current trends.

Given the high costs of increasing production efficiency further, our analysis indicates the need for significantly more ambitious policy targets and systemic changes, including reduced consumption of animal-sourced food. Besides shedding light on the interaction between climate and agricultural strategies, our analysis illustrates the application of cross-scale thinking in the operationalization of the SDG agenda and underscores the need for concerted action amongst countries.

This article is available on the publisher’s website via restricted access.


PBL Authors
Vassilis Daioglou Jonathan Doelman Detlef van Vuuren
Other authors
Juliana D.B.Gil
Martin van Ittersum
Pytrik Reidsma
E.van Middelaar


Publication title
Reconciling global sustainability targets and local action for food production and climate change mitigation
Publication date
19 September 2019
Publication type
Publication language
Global Environmental Change
Volume 59, November 2019, 101983
Product number