Journal article Open Access

Environmental pressure of the European agricultural system: Anticipating the biophysical consequences of internalization

Renner, A.; Cadillo-Benalcazar, J.J.; Benini, L.; Giampietro, M.

In the European Union, national-scope efforts to protect local ecosystem services are greatly helped by the externalization of agricultural production. Domestic environmental pressures such as pesticide residue, fertilizer leakage and waterbody overdraft would all significantly increase if European agricultural production were to be re-localized. Those increases would add additional stress on local habitats, soils and freshwater reserves. This work addresses such concerns by anticipating pressure increases associated with a near-complete re-internalization of agricultural production in the European Union. Our results could prove relevant in the event of an end of the era of cheap food imports, or when considering the plausibility of economic circularization efforts (such as suggested by the European Green Deal). Rather than produce quantitative results determined by a given set of supposedly uncontested pre-analytical assumptions, this work presents an innovative approach to scientific representation capable of accommodating several possible results driven by contradictory yet equally legitimate insights. According to our characterization of the option space, which builds on current trade profiles and assumes business as usual change in technical coefficients, a near-complete re-internalization of agricultural production by European Union member states is not environmentally feasible. In relation to social viability, the required changes in social practices would include a significant increase in the share of agricultural workers in the economy and important dietary adjustments.

A. Renner and M. Giampietro acknowledge financial support by the European Environment Agency (EEA) under framework contract EEA/IEA/16/003, specifically project references 3423/B2017/EEA.57029 and 3423/B2018/EEA.57296. A. Renner, J.J. Cadillo-Benalcazar and M. Giampietro acknowledge financial support by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 689669 (MAGIC) and the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, through the "María de Maeztu" program for Units of Excellence (CEX2019-000940-M). A. Renner acknowledges financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, through the "formación de profesorado universitario" scholarship program (FPU15/03376). This work only reflects the view of the authors; the funding agencies are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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