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Publication | 2024

Recipe for a Livable Planet: Achieving Net Zero Emissions in the Agrifood System


Recipe for a Livable Planet is the first comprehensive global strategic framework for mitigating the agrifood system’s contributions to climate change.

The report’s main messages are

• The global agrifood system presents a huge opportunity to cut almost a one-third of the world’s GHG emissions through affordable and readily available actions.

• These actions will also have three key benefits: they will make food supplies more secure, help our food system better withstand climate change, and ensure that vulnerable people are not harmed by this transition.

The Challenges

Agrifood is a bigger contributor to climate change than many think. It generates almost a third of GHG emissions, averaging around 16 gigatons annually. Three-quarters of agrifood emissions come from developing countries, including two-thirds from middle-income countries.

It is necessary to take a food systems approach, including emissions from relevant value chains and land use change as well as those from the farm, because more than half of agrifood emissions come from those sources.

Recipe for a Livable Planet

Too little money is invested in cutting agrifood emissions, and agrifood lags other sectors in financing for climate action. Finance for reducing or removing emissions in the agrifood system is anemic at 2.4 percent of total mitigation finance.

The Big Opportunities

The agrifood system is a huge, untapped source of low-cost climate change action. Unlike other sectors, it can have an outsize impact on climate change by drawing carbon from the atmosphere through ecosystems and soils.

The payoffs for investing in cutting agrifood emissions are estimated to be much bigger than the costs. Annual investments will need to increase by an estimated 18 times, to $260 billion a year, to halve current agrifood emissions by 2030 and put the world on track for net zero emissions by 2050. Previous estimates show that the benefits in health, economic, and environmental terms could be as much as $4.3 trillion in 2030, a 16-to-1 return on investment costs.

Some of the cost can be paid for by shifting money away from wasteful subsidies, but substantial additional resources are needed to cover the rest.

The Opportunities for Action in Countries and Globally

With their access to resources and technological know-how, high-income countries can play a central role in helping the world cut emissions in agrifood.

• Energy demands by agrifood are the highest in high-income countries, so such countries should do more to promote renewable energy.

• High-income countries should give more financial and technical support to low- and middle-income countries to help them adopt low-emission agrifood practices and build their capacity to effectively use new technologies.

• High-income countries should decrease their own consumer demand for emissions-intensive, animal-source foods. They can influence consumption by ensuring that the environmental and health costs borne by society are fully included in food prices. These countries can also shift subsidies for red meat and dairy toward lower-emission foods, such as poultry or fruits and vegetables.

Middle-income countries have great opportunities to cut their agrifood emissions. These countries are where three-quarters of the opportunities exist for emissions to be cut in a cost-effective way. Fifteen large, mostly middle-income countries account for almost two-thirds of the world’s cost-effective mitigation potential.

• One-third of the world’s opportunities to reduce agrifood emissions in a cost-effective way relate to land use in middle-income countries. Reducing the conversion of forests to crop-lands or pastures and promoting reforestation or agroforestry can bring big emissions cuts and store carbon in biomass and soils.

• Other opportunities exist in cutting methane in livestock and rice paddies, as well as using sustainable soil management to store carbon and boost agricultural yields and climate resilience.

• Middle-income countries easily emit the most pre- and post-food production emissions, particularly from fertilizer production, food loss and waste, and household food consumption. However, there are cost-effective options for emissions cuts in each of these areas.

Low-income countries should focus on green and competitive growth and avoid building

the high-emissions infrastructure that high-income countries must now replace.

• More than half of the agrifood emissions in low-income countries come from converting forests to croplands or pastures; thus, preserving and restoring forests can be a cost-effective way to reduce emissions and promote sustainable economic development.

• Carbon credits and emissions trading can put a value on forests’ standing that preserves them as carbon sinks, a refuge for animals and plants, and a source of sustainable jobs for Indigenous peoples and others.

• Improved agricultural practices such as agroforestry, which integrates trees in croplands, could not only store carbon but also make the land more productive, offer job opportunities, and provide more diversified diets. Likewise, climate-smart agriculture techniques could lower emissions while offering economic gains and more resilience to climate change.

Actions at the country and global levels can create more favorable conditions for reducing agrifood emissions. Governments, businesses, farmers, consumers, and international organizations must work together to:

• Make private investments in agrifood mitigation less risky and more possible, while repurposing wasteful subsidies and introducing public policies to encourage low emissions and productivity-enhancing technologies;

• Capitalize on emerging digital technologies to improve information for measurement, reporting, and verification of GHG emissions reductions, while investing in innovation to drive the agrifood system transformation into the future; and

• Leverage institutions at the international, national, and subnational levels to facilitate these opportunities while ensuring a just transition through the inclusion of stakeholders like smallholder farmers, women, and Indigenous groups, who are at the front lines of climate change.