Inequality and Diet: How Are Environmental Impacts from Food Consumption Distributed Across Different Socioeconomic Groups Globally?
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In the age of globalization, rapid population growth, increased flow of products across borders and a rising demand for food, have been rising concern amongst international organizations. On the other hand, globalization has also largely contributed to increasing the level of world development, thus lifted millions out of poverty. However, recent reports reveal that this has failed to include everyone even though average development is rising, inequality is becoming an escalating problem. With expectations of a population of 9.15 billion by 2050, the agricultural sector will be required to expand its production significantly in the coming decades to ensure food security for everyone. Moreover, through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN published in 2016, the aspirations to mitigate climate change, reduce inequality and eradicate hunger were expressed, which further rose awareness around these issues. However, an arising challenge with the SDGs is how the policies towards them may negatively affect each other. Eradicating hunger might mean that increased food production is necessary, which again might influence the climate negatively a factor that has been shown to increase inequality. Further, some studies have pointed towards a correlation between rising development levels and environmental footprints, however, few have addressed this on a socioeconomic level. Also, some researchers have found Environmental Gini Coefficients (EGCs) from consumption of all commodities, however, conspicuously few have considered only food products. Therefore, even though rising environmental impacts from food are observed, addressing who i.e. which regions and income quintiles is actually responsible for this and how this might further affect inequality is yet to be examined. The question comes down to this how can we ensure food security while at the same time foster climate change mitigation and reduce inequality? an issue that will be approached by delving into consumption habits of people in different socioeconomic levels. In this study, the environmental impacts of food consumption were measured for 44 countries and 5 regions over an eight-year period (2004-2011) for five different income quintiles. The impacts were assessed in terms of three footprint categories; global warming potential (GWP), land use (LU) and blue water consumption (BWC). To address the footprint distribution across the quintiles, the Environmental Gini Coefficients (EGC) were calculated for each year. Further, Income Gini Coefficients (IGC) and the Human Development Index (HDI) were included to see the results in a development perspective. Ultimately, the contribution to the footprints of each food product was calculated. Information on quintile consumption from the environmentally extended Input-Output database EXIOBASE, income shares from The World Bank and World Income Inequality Database and HDI from the UNDP were imported to MATLAB for calculations. The results argue that all global footprints from food consumption have been increasing in absolute and per capita values since 2004. The largest rise was observed for the two upper quintiles, which additionally had a share of 59-61% combined of total global footprints from food consumption in 2011. Globally, the upper middle class (quintile 4) was found to have the most increasing GWP FP and LU FP. Further, the global GWP FP and LU FP were observed to be decreasing during The Global Financial Crisis around 2008, where the footprints from the poorest quintiles were found to be the most sensitive to the economic changes caused by the crisis. The EGCs were observed to be steadily increasing from 2004 to values of 0.379 (GWP), 0.389 (LU) and 0.374 (BWC) in 2011. Regionally, China, United States, Indonesia and RoW Africa were found to experience rising footprint inequality, whereas Norway and Brazil were growing more equal. Meat from cattle, milk and dairy were observed to have the most impact on GWP and LU, whereas wheat and nuts were most important for BWC. The global results indicate that environmental impacts from food is increasingly caused by those of higher income groups, thus the distribution of footprints is growing more unequal.