The way we eat

The hidden costs of unsustainable food production

We need food, but the way we eat, particularly in developed nations, is killing both us and the planet.

Photo: Sharomka/

our diet hurts us

Diseases from meat and dairy-based diets are exploding, while more than 957 million people lack sufficient food.

An EAT-Lancet report says two billion people are micronutrient deficient, and almost one billion are hungry, while 2.1 billion adults are obese or overweight.




It says the Western diet is a greater disease risk than unsafe sex, alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined. 

Photo: Sharomka/

How our diet hurts Earth

The way we produce our food is corroding a sustainable future.

Clearing forest for more food is stomping on the accelerator of climate change.

Photo: UNDP/Leonardo Fernandez for Getty Images

Industrial food production releases a quarter of all greenhouse gases, according to the University of Oxford.

Photo: ArtBitz/

It uses 70 percent of fresh water.

It takes up 40 percent of land surface. 

Felling trees releases carbon dioxide, while clearing land for grazing land means more cattle and more methane, which is 28 times more powerful than CO2.

Photo: UNDP/Leonardo Fernandez for Getty Images

Wasted food equals another eight percent of emissions. If wastage were its own country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says at this rate conventional farming will be unable to support “large human civilizations” in about 30 years.

Photo: Fotokostic/

How will climate change affect the way you eat?

A heating globe and unpredictable weather are already damaging food systems.

We are seeing less nutritious food, reduced range and yields in crops and poorer soil.

Photo: HelloRF Zcool/

Crops that need specific conditions to grow are most at risk, such as cocoa, berries, citrus and stone fruits, and avocados and bananas.

The IPCC report says sustainable food is key to meeting the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5C.

To achieve it we must change our diets and reform the entire system of food production, consumption and distribution.

Photo: David Tadevosian/

we do

UNDP works across the globe, and at all levels of society, to encourage sustainable agriculture.

We placed agriculture and planning at the forefront of global efforts in COP24 in Poland.

Photo: UNDP/Linh Pham

We advise national and international leaders on how to put sustainable agriculture into their National Adaptation Plans to meet their Paris Agreement commitments.

Photo: UNDP Iraq / Claire Thomas

We work with farmers, policy makers, the private sector and value chains.

Photo: UNDP/Linh Pham

In Ethiopia the Agricultural Transformation Agency is revolutionizing the country’s 12.8 million smallholder farms.

Photo: Ethopian ATA

We help school children in Jamaica revive their school farms and sell produce. From Ghana to Pakistan, we work with small farmers to provide adequate water.

Photo: UNDP Jamaica/Tori Repole

Waste not, want not

Cutting down on waste represents an enormous opportunity.

Up to one third of food is wasted between farm and table. If just 25 percent of this were saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million people a year.

Shopping and eating more sustainably can support farmers and cut down on pesticides.

Photo: UNDP Eurasia/Arben Llapashtica

What we need to do

In 2050 there will be nearly 10 billion people on Earth. To feed everyone, we must make big changes at every level of society.

Support family farms and local farmers’ markets. Reduce meat and dairy – make meat, cheese, and butter a treat. Eat more local, seasonal food, and throw less away.

Photo: UNDP Lebanon/Dalia Khamissy

Diets and farming overhauled in a systemic way that tackles ecosystem degradation.

Deforestation-free agriculture.

Climate-resilient farming and food supply chains.

Less reliance on chemical fertilizers.

We need