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

13 October 2020
Nexus analysis
Renner et al.

Cite as: Renner A, Cadillo-Benalcazar JJ, Benini L & Giampietro M (2020), 'Environmental pressure of the European agricultural system: Anticipating the biophysical consequences of internalization', Ecosystem Services, vol. 46, article 101195, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2020.101195.

Dataset: The data related to this publication is available on Zenodo: https://zenodo.org/record/3923010.

Open access: Available in gold open access from the publisher and on Zenodo, under the licence Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).


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.

Related publications:

  • Cadillo-Benalcazar JJ, Renner A & Giampietro M 2020, 'A multiscale integrated analysis of the factors characterizing the sustainability of food systems in Europe', Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 271, article 110944. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2020.110944.
  • Giampietro M, Cadillo Benalcazar JJ, Di Felice LJ, Manfroni M, Pérez Sánchez L, Renner A, Ripa M, Velasco Fernández R & Bukkens SGF (2020), Report on the Experience of Applications of the Nexus Structuring Space in Quantitative Storytelling. MAGIC (H2020–GA 689669) Project Deliverable 4.4, 30 August 2020, https://magic-nexus.eu/documents/deliverable-44-report-nexus-structuring-space.