FRANCE – In a recent study, researchers have revealed that replacing just half of the world’s consumption of pork, chicken, beef, and milk products with plant-based alternatives could potentially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions originating from agriculture and related land use by nearly one-third.
The study, featured in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, employed advanced modeling techniques to analyze the potential outcomes of a worldwide shift towards plant-based alternatives that match the nutritional value of traditional animal products.
The results of the research underscored the vital role that dietary choices play in mitigating climate change and preserving our planet’s natural ecosystems.
As the global population continues to grow and incomes rise, there is a looming threat of increased demand for these staple animal products, which often come with severe environmental consequences.
Forests are frequently razed to make room for cattle and the grain needed to feed them. Additionally, cows emit methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas with a warming effect significantly more powerful than carbon dioxide.
The study estimated that by reducing consumption of these animal products by half, greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture and land use could be slashed by a remarkable 31% by 2050 compared to 2020 levels.
Furthermore, the dietary transformation would curtail the use of nitrogen for crops by nearly half, while water consumption would decrease by 10%.
It’s a critical opportunity to address climate change and food security simultaneously, with the potential to reduce the number of undernourished people by 31 million by 2050 and bolster biodiversity.
In addition, the reclaimed land could contribute significantly to the land restoration goals set in a global treaty established at the end of the previous year, aiming for 2030.
The study suggested that, if current trends continue, the decline of life-sustaining ecosystems could be more than halved by 2050.
“Plant-based meats are not just a novel food product but a critical opportunity for achieving food security and climate goals while also achieving health and biodiversity objectives worldwide,” Eva Wollenberg, co-author of the study, emphasized.
Sub-Saharan Africa, China, and Southeast Asia stand to gain the most from reductions in biodiversity loss, while carbon sequestration levels would see substantial improvements in sub-Saharan Africa and South America, particularly in Brazil.
Notably, replacing beef alone could account for about half of the emissions reductions achieved through the reduction of all four animal products.
The researchers acknowledged the cultural significance of livestock in some regions and their importance to small-scale farmers but stressed that climate change poses a significant threat to these communities.
They also pointed out that the pricing of plant-based products and the pace of this transformation will be heavily influenced by public policies.