China’s future food demand and its implications for trade and environment

Hao Zhao, Jinfeng Chang, Petr Havlík, Michiel van Dijk, Hugo Valin, Charlotte Janssens, Lin Ma*, Zhaohai Bai, Mario Herrero, Pete Smith, Michael Obersteiner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Satisfying China’s food demand without harming the environment is one of the greatest sustainability challenges for the coming decades. Here we provide a comprehensive forward-looking assessment of the environmental impacts of China’s growing demand on the country itself and on its trading partners. We find that the increasing food demand, especially for livestock products (~16%–30% across all scenarios), would domestically require ~3–12 Mha of additional pasture between 2020 and 2050, resulting in ~−2% to +16% growth in agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The projected ~15%–24% reliance on agricultural imports in 2050 would result in ~90–175 Mha of agricultural land area and ~88–226 MtCO2-equivalent yr−1of GHG emissions virtually imported to China, which account for ~26%–46% and ~13%–32% of China’s global environmental impacts, respectively. The distribution of the environmental impacts between China and the rest of the world would substantially depend on development of trade openness. Thus, to limit the negative environmental impacts of its growing food consumption, besides domestic policies, China needs to also take responsibility in the development of sustainable international trade.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1042-1051
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number12
Early online date18 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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