What Is the Contribution of City-Scale Actions to the Overall Food System’s Environmental Impacts?: Assessing Water, Greenhouse Gas, and Land Impacts of Future Urban Food Scenarios

  • September 2017
  • Peer-Reviewed Articles
  • Multiple

Boyer, D., & Ramaswami, A. (2017). “What Is the Contribution of City-Scale Actions to the Overall Food System’s Environmental Impacts?: Assessing Water, Greenhouse Gas, and Land Impacts of Future Urban Food Scenarios”. Environmental Science & Technology, 51(20), 12035-12045.

ABSTRACT: This paper develops a methodology for individual cities to use to analyze the in- and trans-boundary water, greenhouse gas (GHG), and land impacts of city-scale food system actions. Applied to Delhi, India, the analysis demonstrates that city-scale action can rival typical food policy interventions that occur at larger scales, although no single city-scale action can rival in all three environmental impacts. In particular, improved food-waste management within the city (7% system-wide GHG reduction) matches the GHG impact of preconsumer trans-boundary food waste reduction. The systems approach is particularly useful in illustrating key tradeoffs and co-benefits. For instance, multiple diet shifts that can reduce GHG emissions have trade-offs that increase water and land impacts. Vertical farming technology (VFT) with current applications for fruits and vegetables can provide modest systemwide water (4%) and land reductions (3%), although implementation within the city itself may raise questions of constraints in water-stressed cities, with such a shift in Delhi increasing community-wide direct water use by 16%. Improving the nutrition status for the bottom 50% of the population to the median diet is accompanied by proportionally smaller increases of water, GHG, and land impacts (4%, 9%, and 8%, systemwide): increases that can be offset through simultaneous city-scale actions, e.g., improved food-waste management and VFT.

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