New research suggests that replacing almost a third of global meat consumption with plant proteins could have significant benefits for the climate and nature. The study, commissioned by environmental group Madre Brava and conducted by researchers at consultancy Profundo, reveals the staggering impact of meat consumption on the environment.
By substituting 30% of beef, pork, and chicken intake with a combination of whole foods and innovative plant-based meat alternatives in countries like North America, the EU, and the UK, it is estimated that annual greenhouse gas savings of 728 million tonnes of CO2e could be achieved – equivalent to the emissions produced by global air travel in 2022. Furthermore, this dietary shift could free up 3.4 million square kilometers of farmland, an area roughly the size of India, which could be returned to nature to enhance biodiversity and absorb carbon emissions. In addition, a significant amount of water – 18.9 cubic kilometers – could be saved due to the livestock industry’s excessive water usage.
The benefits of this dietary transition, in the context of climate change, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity, are immense. Nico Muzi, the Managing Director of Madre Brava, emphasizes the urgent need to rethink the current food system, which prioritizes industrial meat production over sustainable and healthier protein options. Governments and food retailers play a crucial role in making sustainable proteins the most affordable and accessible choice for consumers.
Aside from mitigating climate change and promoting biodiversity, the study highlights other advantages of plant protein production. Compared to livestock and meat production, plant protein production requires significantly less land, reducing deforestation and protecting ecosystems. It also uses less water, reduces water and air pollution, minimizes the risk of antibiotic resistance and zoonotic pandemics, and alleviates public health burdens associated with red meat consumption.
The report also warns against the alarming increase in global meat consumption over the past few decades, posing a serious threat to the environment. Despite predictions that demand would stabilize in wealthier nations, global meat production has risen by 19% from 2011 to 2021. With a growing global population, rising incomes in developing countries, and increased life expectancy, there is an imminent risk of further meat consumption growth.
Efficiency improvements in livestock production are important, but they alone are insufficient to align food systems with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Structural solutions that prioritize sustainable proteins are critical for achieving substantial emissions reductions and creating a more sustainable future.
Q: How much greenhouse gas savings can be achieved by replacing a third of meat consumption with plant proteins?
A: Substituting 30% of beef, pork, and chicken intake with plant proteins can result in annual greenhouse gas savings of 728 million tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to global air travel emissions in 2022.
Q: How much water can be saved by switching to plant proteins?
A: The transition to plant proteins could save 18.9 cubic kilometers of water due to the excessive water usage of the livestock industry.
Q: What are some additional advantages of plant protein production?
A: Plant protein production uses significantly less land, reduces deforestation, minimizes water and air pollution, mitigates the risk of antibiotic resistance and zoonotic pandemics, and lowers public health burdens associated with red meat consumption.
Q: Why is it important to make sustainable proteins the cheapest and easiest choice for consumers?
A: Structural solutions that prioritize sustainable proteins are crucial for achieving substantial emissions reductions and aligning food systems with climate goals. Governments and food retailers have a critical role to play in making sustainable protein options affordable and accessible to consumers.