The greenhouse gas footprints of China's food production and consumption (1987–2017)

Haiyan Zhang, Yue Xu, Michael L. Lahr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As China urbanized and its economy grew rapidly, its food production and consumption patterns changed dramatically over the past three decades. With this in mind, we evaluate how the nation's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to food production and consumption altered from 1987 to 2017. We further explore key factors that affect GHG emission changes from agricultural production and household diet perspectives. We find that the GHG emissions from China's food production rose 51 percent, while that from food consumption rose 64 percent. The rise in GHG footprint of China's food production was largely caused by the increasing material- and energy-intensive food production system. Agricultural modernization was a main cause of the rise in GHGs, as China was late to the game in improving agricultural productivity. But a more meat-intensive diet accompanied by a general rise in households' use of processed food also helped to drive these transformations. China's growing appetite for meat not only intensified GHG mitigation pressures domestically, but also abroad, as Chinese households began to demand greater variety that was satisfied via imports. Indeed, GHG emissions embodied in imported meats rose over eleven-fold from 2007 to 2017. Through this study, we highlight the importance of future policy-making focused on a more sustainable food system in China to benefit the world's environment, health, and climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113934
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • China
  • Food consumption
  • Food production
  • Greenhouse gas footprint
  • Hybrid economic input-output and life cycle assessment (EIO-LCA)


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