The International Resource Panel report says that expanding the amount of land used for crops to meet growing global demand for food – particularly meat and dairy – and for biomass, is unsustainable under business as usual conditions, requiring expansion of 320m to 850m hectares by 2050. Such expansion would not sustain the basic functioning of ecosystems, it said, such as conserving water and biodiversity, and maintaining soil productivity.
“Reducing excessive consumption provides high untapped potential for ‘saving’ land, notably by reducing food waste and losses, shifting to more vegetal diets in high meat-consuming countries, and improving the fuel efficiency of transport and housing,” it said.
The report claims that in Europe, North America and Oceania, reducing meat consumption by 25% and cutting household food waste by 15-20% could save about 100m hectares of cropland by 2030. In total, it says cropland expansion should be limited to between 8% and 37%.
The amount of land used for crops has fallen in Europe over the past 50 years, but the authors stress that this must be seen in the context of increased international trade. On average, there is currently about 2,300m² of cropland in use for each person in the world – but in Europe, the amount of cropland needed meet average consumption rises to about 3,100m².
Commenting on the report, resource use campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe Ariadna Rodrigo said: "Europe urgently needs to start taking the issue of land seriously by starting to measure Europe's land footprint, setting EU-wide reduction targets, and putting in place policies that will reduce our land consumption."
Agricultural use accounts for about a third of the world’s total land area and has increased by 11% since 1961, the report says, with most of that growth coming from South America, Africa and Asia.
The report also recommends decoupling the markets for food and fuel, by cutting biofuels targets.
The full document is available to download here.