Extensive emissions and deforestation benefits of plant-based diet and emerging tech underlined by new data

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Swapping 50% of our regular animal product consumption with novel alternatives could also have a largely positive impact on climate change and natural ecosystems. GettyImages
Swapping 50% of our regular animal product consumption with novel alternatives could also have a largely positive impact on climate change and natural ecosystems. GettyImages

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Substituting 50% of pork, beef, chicken, and milk consumption with plant-based products could reduce global agriculture and land-use green house gas emissions by 31% in 2050 compared to 2020.

This is according to a modelling paper published in Nature Communications​. Additionally, net global forest and natural land destruction may almost stop completely, the findings suggest.

Despite accounting for less than 20% of the global food energy supply, animal source foods are responsible for most negative impacts on land-use, water use, biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions in global food systems. Substituting the consumption of animal products with plant-based products would help alleviate the environmental impacts of our diets.

Marta Kozicka and colleagues used a global economic land use model to estimate the environmental impacts of diets when animal dietary products are partially substituted by plant-based products in a future scenario.

They focused on the main animal dietary products (pork, beef, chicken, and milk) and how these could be substituted by specific alternative products with similar nutritional value. They found that beef replacements may provide the greatest benefits.

The greatest reductions in biodiversity losses were found to be in Sub-Saharan Africa, China and South-East Asia. Carbon sequestration levels were found to improve the most in Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil and other South American countries, according to the model.

If 50% of these products were substituted, then climate benefits could double from the restoration of agricultural land to forest, reaching 92% of the previously estimated land sector mitigation potential. Furthermore, future declines in ecosystem integrity by 2050 would be more than halved.

Swapping 50% of our regular animal product consumption with novel alternatives could also have a largely positive impact on climate change and natural ecosystems, the authors added.

“We can expect that over time with scale and technological advances, the production costs of the novel alternatives would decrease and that product quality would increase - in line with the assumption of the increasing substitution over time,” they added.

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