Flexitarian Diets Offer Climate Benefits and Support 1.5°C Climate Goal

by Ella

A recent study underscores the potential of flexitarian diets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to achieving the 1.5°C climate goal. Published in the journal Science, the study highlights the environmental advantages of plant-heavy flexitarian eating patterns, emphasizing their role in mitigating climate change impacts.

Global Food Systems and Climate Change:

The study delves into the significant impact of food systems on climate change, noting that the food industry accounts for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Notably, meat production alone contributes to 60% of these emissions, highlighting the environmental strain associated with livestock farming.


Benefits of Flexitarian Diets:

While vegan diets have been recognized for their substantial emission reductions, the study emphasizes the importance of flexitarianism, a dietary approach that reduces meat consumption while incorporating more plant-based foods. Estimates suggest that flexitarians constitute a significant portion of the global population, making them pivotal in facilitating a transition towards sustainable protein consumption.


Flexitarianism and Climate Targets:

The study envisions three future scenarios: one based on current emission reduction commitments (NDCs), another integrating NDCs with policies aligned with the 1.5°C global warming goal, and a third incorporating a shift towards flexitarian diets by 2050. Results indicate that embracing flexitarianism alongside emission reduction policies could effectively limit peak warming to 1.56°C by 2045, surpassing outcomes based solely on current dietary trends.


Environmental Implications of Flexitarian Diets:

Flexitarian diets offer substantial benefits in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane and nitrous oxide, associated with livestock farming. By promoting a shift towards plant-based foods, flexitarianism minimizes agricultural land use and mitigates environmental impacts on water, nitrogen, and biodiversity.


Policy Recommendations:

The study underscores the importance of policy interventions to support dietary transitions, including the implementation of meat taxes and consumer education initiatives. While challenges exist in implementing meat taxes, targeting high-emission foods like beef and lamb could incentivize dietary shifts without significantly impacting overall food prices. Additionally, educational campaigns and food environment modifications can influence consumer preferences and foster healthier eating habits.

Socioeconomic Considerations:

Recognizing potential socioeconomic implications, the study emphasizes the need for social inclusion and compensation schemes to support a just transition, particularly in upper-middle- and high-income countries. However, it acknowledges affordability challenges in low- to lower-middle-income nations, suggesting the integration of transfer payments and revised food distribution schemes to facilitate dietary shifts.


Flexitarian diets offer a promising pathway towards sustainable food consumption and climate resilience. By embracing dietary changes aligned with flexitarian principles, individuals and policymakers can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and advancing climate goals while promoting human and planetary health.



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