HomeFoodPlant-based foods can boost easily global sustainability in 2023

Plant-based foods can boost easily global sustainability in 2023

Plant-based foods can boost global sustainability

Recent research has unveiled that substituting 50% of meat and dairy products with plant-based alternatives by 2050 can reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to agriculture and land use by 31% while preventing the degradation of forests and natural land. This study, published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, also suggests that reforestation of land from livestock production when adopting plant-based alternatives could fulfil up to 25% of global land restoration requirements by 2030 as per the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’s Target 2.

Conducted independently by IIASA in collaboration with the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT, alongside USAID, this research received input from Impossible Foods to ensure its relevance. Impossible Foods contributed generic recipes for plant-based meat substitutes used in the analysis.

Marta Kozicka, the lead author and researcher at IIASA’s  Biodiversity and Natural Resources Programme, emphasized the potential impact of dietary shifts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving biodiversity, stating, “Understanding the impacts of dietary shifts expands our options for reducing GHG emissions. Shifting diets could also yield huge improvements for biodiversity.”

Study co-author Eva Wollenberg from Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont highlighted the significance of plant-based meats in achieving global food security, climate goals, and health and biodiversity objectives but noted that such transitions require technological innovations and policy interventions.
The study developed scenarios based on plant-based beef, pork, chicken, and milk recipes that were nutritionally equivalent to their animal-derived counterparts and feasible for current food manufacturing capabilities and globally available production ingredients. Results from a 50% substitution scenario showed a 12% reduction in the global agricultural area compared to 2020 and a 10% decrease in water use by 2050.

To fully benefit the environment from dietary shifts, the study emphasized restoring agricultural land no longer used for livestock and feed production through biodiversity-focused afforestation. In the 50% scenario, afforestation could double the benefits from reduced land-use emissions.

The impact of these findings may vary by region due to differences in population, diets, agricultural productivity, and participation in international trade of agricultural goods. While the study acknowledges the importance of livestock for smallholders in low- and middle-income countries, it also stresses the need for policies and actions to support a just and sustainable food system transition while mitigating environmental risks posed by climate change.

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