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Representing 20 of the largest economies in the world, the consumption habits of G20 states are among the most important in affecting the planet and its resources. Though they make up only 10% of the world’s countries, they produce almost three-quarters of the total carbon emissions from the entire global food system. This makes their leadership in transitioning towards more sustainable diets crucial to the fight against a multitude of global issues, from climate change to biodiversity loss, inequality and the rise of zoonotic diseases.
In a new report titled Diets for a Better Future by Oslo-based nonprofit EAT, researchers uncovered the food footprints of G20 countries. It is one of the first reports in the world to comprehensively quantify and compare national dietary guidelines and whether they will be sufficient to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Below, we take a look at some of the most shocking facts revealed in the assessment.
1. If everyone ate the way G20 countries do, we would need 7 more Earths
If the entire world ate like the countries in G20, by 2050, the planet is set to exceed the boundary for food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 263% and we’d need as many as 7 more Earths to support this food production.
2. Only India and Indonesia have diets that our planet’s resources can support
Out of the 20 largest economies in the world, only two – India and Indonesia – have diets that stay within the limits of what our planet can support. Experts state in the report that for these two countries, the main goal needs to be to prevent the uptick of consumption of unsustainable foods and ensuring that the entire population has enough healthy food to eat.
3. Report makes clear that food & diet are key to solving climate change
The food we eat, from what we consume to how much is lost, wasted and the process by which it is produced, is the “single largest human pressure” determining whether we’ll be able to meet the goals set out by the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Beyond carbon emissions, global food production is “threatening local ecosystems, driving a sixth mass extinction of species, and impacting the stability of the entire Earth system,” the report authors wrote.
4. Flexitarian diet could reduce global carbon budget by 40%
The report finds that increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts and lowering consumption of meat and dairy will be the most crucial steps to take towards reducing G20 countries’ food footprint. It won’t even require the complete adoption of a fully plant-based diet – as much as 40% of the total global carbon budget for food could be freed up if everybody in G20 switched to a flexitarian diet.
5. US, EU, Australia & Argentina are biggest culprits for carbon-intensive diets
Of all the G20 countries, the United States, European Union, Australia and Argentina are the top four countries that must take a leading role in significantly scaling back on the intake of carbon-heavy foods such as red meat and dairy.
6. If G20 countries chose more sustainable diets, 11 million lives a year could be saved
If G20 states significantly reduce meat and dairy from their diets and consequently free up the global carbon food budget, it would lead to a more equitable distribution of food, especially to developing nations where poverty and malnutrition is prevalent. According to the report, if sustainable diets are adopted by G20 countries, it could save as many as 11 million lives a year.
7. Policymakers MUST price in climate crisis in national eating guidelines & food pyramids
Given the enormous impact that food consumption habits of G20 states have on the planet, the report’s authors say that national dietary guidelines of these countries represent a huge opportunity for change. Policymakers are recommended to price in both health and environmental sustainability in their guidelines, and ensure that they are aligned with the Paris Agreement goals.
8. Food-related emissions in G20 countries go down by 50% by 2050
Only halving per-capita carbon emissions from food in all G20 countries by 2050 can we ensure healthy diets within planetary boundaries for 10 billion people globally, concludes the report.
Lead image courtesy of Pixabay.