Report examines what we'll be eating in 2050

Published: 18 May 2021 at 16:05

Dry, cracked earth

ARU expert co-authors new study for the Global Food Security programme

A new report co-authored by Professor Aled Jones of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) points to a future of dietary changes, higher food prices, and less food waste.

The UN’s Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require significant changes to the type of food that will produced and consumed in the UK.

Published by the UKRI’s Global Food Security programme, the report examines four potential scenarios of what our food system might look like in 2050, as the UK adapts to meet its climate change commitments while also experiencing milder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers.

Professor Jones, Director of ARU’s Global Sustainability Institute, authored the “collaborative food system” scenario, where global governance and trade arrangements determine which foods are grown in which parts of the world to maximise yields and improve sustainability.

In this scenario, the UK’s primary export is red meat, with a world-class livestock system that emits minimal greenhouse gases while supporting biodiversity and reforestation. However, by 2050 red meat is a luxury product, so the UK population eats mostly plant-based protein with some white meat. This shift has helped reduce diet-related diseases and creates space for wildlife to thrive.

Although these individual scenarios aren’t predictions of what will happen by 2050, taken together the four different scenarios reveal several common outcomes, such as an inevitable rise of food prices, driven partly by climate change, a shift towards less land-intensive, meat-based diets, and a reduction in food waste, which has a number of associated benefits.

The UK currently wastes 10.2 million tonnes of food every year, producing more than 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing food waste would not only reduce these emissions, but also reduce the amount of land required to feed the population.

This could allow agricultural land to be released for alternative uses such as reforestation, biodiversity, and renewable energy production, bringing the UK closer to its climate-mitigation targets and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Professor Jones said:

“Meeting our commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals and our climate change emissions reduction targets necessitate a radical change in our diets over the next few decades. In the UK over the past few years, we have already started to see this change accelerating with a rise in interest in plant based and vegan diets. The co-benefits of looking after ourselves and our planet by eating in harmony with nature are significant. 

“While these scenarios are not a prediction of the future, they do aim to help us understand possible trends and changes that will happen in our food systems so that we can respond and prepare appropriately. If we plant these ideas now, maybe they will grow into the solutions that we need in future.”

The scenario analysis produced the following key messages:

  • Meeting global agreements on climate mitigation and sustainable development requires the radical transformation of the current food system.
  • Future food systems must deliver against wider metrics of sustainability alongside ambitious climate mitigation.
  • Transforming the food system to meet global agreements requires the development and implementation of a range of systems approaches and systemic technologies.
  • Strategies to meet global agreements will vary greatly depending on a country’s reliance on global trade.
  • Radical action must be taken today to ensure future food security.

To read the full report, visit the Global Food Security website:

Sustainability at ARU

We're home to the Global Sustainability Institute, which works to develop practical solutions to the sustainability challenges we all face, both locally and globally. Read more about the Institute's work on sustainable consumption, and limits to growth and resource constraints.