Global Dietary Shift Towards Plants: A Potential 31% Emission Reduction and Halt to Deforestation

by Ella

In a groundbreaking study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, researchers have unveiled a compelling pathway to curb climate change and protect natural ecosystems. The study proposes that by replacing half of our current meat and dairy consumption with plant-based alternatives by 2050, we could achieve significant climate benefits. This transition would result in a remarkable 31% reduction in agricultural and land-use emissions while also putting a halt to deforestation.

The research suggests that going a step further by embracing vegan meat and dairy products, along with reforesting the land previously devoted to livestock production, could potentially double the climate benefits. This approach would not only mitigate the decline of ecosystems but also substantially reduce food system emissions by 2050. Crucially, the study indicates that substituting 50% of our primary animal products, including pork, chicken, beef, and milk, would lead to a 12% reduction in land dedicated to livestock and a 10% decrease in water usage compared to 2020 levels.


This independent study, conducted with the involvement of alt-meat industry leader Impossible Foods, highlights the opportunity to effectively combat forest and natural land degradation, especially in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, China, and Southeast Asia. It would also conserve water resources and mitigate biodiversity loss, aligning with the objectives of the newly established African NGO, Plenty Foundation.


Under a business-as-usual scenario, global meat consumption is projected to rise, with a 14% increase expected by 2030, leading to a 4% expansion in agricultural land use. However, a shift towards plant-based alternatives could reverse this trend, reducing the required land by 12% by 2050. Additionally, this dietary transition could yield significant food security benefits, with global undernourishment decreasing by 3.6%, thereby alleviating the plight of 31 million undernourished individuals.


These findings resonate with previous studies that have examined the environmental impact of animal agriculture. Meat alone has been identified as responsible for nearly 60% of all emissions associated with food production, while livestock farming contributes between 11-19.5% of the world’s total emissions. Further research underscores the environmental advantages of plant-based diets, as they can reduce emissions, water pollution, and land use by up to 75% compared to meat-rich diets.


Another study indicates that the adoption of plant-rich diets by three-quarters of the global population by 2050 could prevent a staggering 100 gigatons of emissions. “Understanding the impacts of dietary shifts expands our options for reducing GHG emissions. Shifting diets could also yield huge improvements for biodiversity,” noted study lead Marta Kozicka.

Co-author Eva Wollenberg acknowledged that transitioning to a vegan diet would be challenging and necessitate technological innovations and policy interventions. The importance of initiatives like the upcoming UN climate summit COP28, which is placing a heightened focus on food-related issues, cannot be overstated. COP28 is expected to feature policy announcements aimed at enhancing food security and reducing the climate impact of agrifood. Additionally, the conference will predominantly offer vegan food options this year.

Crucial to achieving increased adoption of plant-based diets is shifting consumer perceptions. A recent Gallup poll found that 74% of Americans do not believe that eating less meat would help mitigate the climate crisis, a figure that rises to 77% for dairy. This may be attributed, in part, to the limited coverage of the environmental impact of livestock farming in media, as one study found that 93% of climate-related media coverage overlooks animal agriculture.

Addressing the funding disparity is another imperative. Research reveals that livestock farmers receive 1,200 times more public funding in the EU than meat alternative companies and 800 times more in the US. Furthermore, 97% of research and innovation spending between 2014 and 2020 was directed towards animal farmers, primarily aimed at enhancing production. In contrast, vegan meat alternatives received a mere $42 million during this period, accounting for just 0.1% of the $35 billion allocated to meat and dairy. Eva Wollenberg emphasized the significance of supporting plant-based meats, describing them as “a critical opportunity for achieving food security and climate goals while also achieving health and biodiversity objectives worldwide.”

Petr Havlík, the study coordinator, emphasized the importance of policy interventions. He noted that while dietary shifts could play a crucial role in achieving climate and biodiversity goals, they must be complemented by targeted production-side policies to fully harness their potential. Without such policies, the benefits could be partially lost due to production inefficiencies leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions and land use.

The study’s authors acknowledge that while the results endorse increased consumption of plant-based meats, livestock remains a vital source of income and nourishment for smallholder farmers. Nevertheless, climate change poses a threat to their livelihoods, underscoring the importance of government support to facilitate a sustainable transition in food production and enhance food security. As the authors aptly noted, “Appropriate policy and management efforts should be developed to both prevent the environmental risks and to support farmers and other actors in the livestock value chain affected for a socially just transition.”



Wellfoodrecipes is a professional gourmet portal, the main columns include gourmet recipes, healthy diet, desserts, festival recipes, meat and seafood recipes, etc.

【Contact us: [email protected]

Copyright © 2023