How might the world look in 2050, and what sort of UK agri-food system might exist as a result? This report describes four possible futures and what policy planning and research will be needed under each, to move the agri-food system towards a net zero UK.
Why scenarios and why now?
The UK Government does not currently have a plan for how the agri-food system will contribute to its ‘net zero by 2050’ commitment, even though the sector accounts for around a quarter of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. There is also no consensus around a vision for a sustainable UK agri-food system.
The rapid pace of global change and recent geopolitical instability pose challenges for thinking about the future, and show that past trends cannot simply be extrapolated forwards. This poses a challenge for policy makers trying to plan for the future. Yet the research needs of the different future worlds requires careful but urgent thought, since innovations can take decades to deploy at scale.
Scenarios help us to think about possible challenges and opportunities ahead, and provide a route for planning and decision-making – which was the aim of this report. The scenarios should not be taken as the future we think will happen, should happen, or that we should choose from. Rather, they provide a framework to help us think about what research might be needed to support a sustainable future food system.
How the scenarios were built
The four ‘plausible futures’ were developed by considering how the world could change in terms of geopolitics and stability, markets and social change. In all four scenarios, the UK reaches net zero emissions by 2050, but in different contexts, via different pathways, and with different implications.
The scenarios were built over several months of workshops and events with agri-food specialists and stakeholders from within the AFN Network+, as well as about 40 other individuals from; UK universities and research institutes; central government departments and agencies involved in food, health and environment; international development agencies such as the UN; national and local farming groups covering both conventional agriculture and environmentally-progressive production systems; environmental organisations; international commodity trading organisations; the security and diplomatic services; commercial organisations; international financial services including national banks.
The scenarios were built by considering key uncertainties, which centred on three questions:
Download the full report.
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UK Research has funded this Network+ with the support of these 4 councils:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)