What might it cost to reconfigure food systems?

Perspectives in Global Development: Spring 2023 Seminar Series

Many reports have been published over the last four years on the urgent need to reconfigure food systems for resilience, sustainability and equity in the face of climate change. But little information is available on the potential costs involved. One such report, based on extensive consultation and published in 2020, set out eleven actions identified as being required to accomplish this. Using existing literature, we estimated the annual cost of implementing these eleven actions to be USD 1.3 trillion. Half of this is needed to halt conversion of forests and peatlands for agriculture, with the remainder used to reduce producer risk, lower emissions and strengthen the policy, finance and innovation enablers of change. Although this is a lot of money, it is equivalent to less than 7 percent of the negative externalities generated annually by current food systems. This is very much a “first-cut” cost estimate, but it may help to underline the size and scope of the urgent challenge that confronts us. The costs of inaction will far outweigh the benefits.

About the speaker

Philip Thornton is a Consultant and Research & Innovation Strategist with Clim-Eat, an organization working to accelerate climate action in food systems. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, he previously led work on policy and priority setting work for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and was a Principal Scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Reading University in the UK and a PhD from Lincoln College in New Zealand. He has over thirty-eight years of experience in agricultural research for development in many countries throughout the tropics and subtropics, particularly in Africa and Latin America. He has contributed to several global assessments in the area of agriculture and food systems, including the IPCC’s Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Assessment reports. He is an Honorary Professor in the School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, an Emeritus Fellow at ILRI, and listed among the world’s most influential climate change scientists on the Reuters Hot List.

About the seminar series

The Perspectives in Global Development seminars are held Wednesdays from 12:25 – 1:15 p.m. eastern time during the semester. The series will be presented in a hybrid format with some speakers on campus and others appearing via Zoom. All seminars are shown in Emerson 135. Students, faculty and the general public are welcome to attend. The series is co-sponsored by the Department of Global Development, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and the School of Integrative Plant Science as part of courses GDEV 4961, AEM 4961, NTRES 4961, GDEV 6960, AEM 6960, and NTRES 6960.

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