Switching Half the Global Meat and Dairy to Plant-Based Could Save Forests, Slash Emissions by 31%: Study

Switching Half the Global Meat and Dairy to Plant-Based Could Save Forests, Slash Emissions by 31%: Study

Substituting half of animal products like pork, chicken, beef and milk with plant-based alternatives globally could highly reduce the conversion of forests and natural lands for agriculture, according to research published in Nature Communications. The study indicates this switch could cut agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 31%, while environmental benefits would differ globally due to various factors such as population size and agricultural production.

Animal products require widespread use of resources, leading to significant greenhouse gas emissions and harm to global biodiversity. Also, scientific evidence indicates overconsumption of these products can affect human health. But plant-based alternatives that mimic animal products, such as soy protein and wheat gluten, provide another option and are gaining popularity.

The study models five dietary change scenarios using hypothetical plant-based recipes with similar nutrient profiles to animal-derived products. The authors analyze these under an economic model integrating land-use information. The study finds that substituting 50% of animal products with sustainable alternatives by 2050 significantly reduces impacts on natural resources: the global agricultural area decreases by 12%, nitrogen use is halved, water use drops by 10%, and greenhouse gas emissions decrease by 2.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

Dietary shifts might happen differently across the globe. In a 50% substitution scenario, China would account for 25% of global cropland abandonment and 22% of agricultural emissions reduction. Sub-Saharan Africa would hold the highest potential to reduce natural land loss and land-use change emissions. The study suggests policies should be devised to support transitioning to plant-based alternatives while safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods.

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Halving reliance on meat and dairy could cut land-use emissions ‘by 31%’