New Study Finds Plant-Based Diets Can Reduce Carbon Emissions by 61%

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Recent research has concluded that high-income countries adopting plant-based diets could help to alleviate climate change. Findings came through a multinational study that identified a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and more effective carbon sequestration connected to animal-free foods.

The study, published in online journal Nature Food, identified that up to 61 percent of greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by wealthy nations turning to plant-based diets.

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Understanding the science

The authors are making big claims. However, the science behind the suggestions holds merit. The study predicates its suggestions on the EAT-Lancet system, which suggests a diet for planetary health. It is mostly plant-based but leaves space for some animal products in small quantities.

If people adopted the approach, waste from the meat and dairy industries would be significantly reduced. The study suggests that if 54 wealthy countries participated, that would be enough to save the planet from a climate disaster. It did not suggest which countries would make the biggest impacts but it is safe to assume that the meat-centric countries including China and U.S. would be included.

This is not the first study to place the burden of climate responsibility on animal agriculture’s shoulders. Nature Food has published a similar case study previously that demonstrated 57 percent of food production greenhouse gases are a result of meat farming.

A recent study by Oxford University researchers found that individual carbon footprints can be reduced by 73 percent, simply by switching to a plant-based diet. Findings, published in the journal Science, were expanded to reveal that without dietary change, global warming will be unstoppable. Sustainable food production systems will hep, but widespread adoption of meat consumption reduction is key.

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Practical applications

The science speaks for itself yet plant-based food still struggles to cut through mainstream dietary habits. This is why initiatives such as the Plant Based Treaty have been launched.

“As a companion to the UNFCCC/Paris Agreement, The Plant Based Treaty initiative is a grassroots campaign designed to put food systems at the forefront of combating the climate crisis,” consumer facing materials state.

“Modeled on the popular Fossil Fuel Treaty, the Plant-Based Treaty aims to halt the widespread degradation of critical ecosystems caused by animal agriculture and to promote a shift to healthier, sustainable plant-based diets. We are urging scientists, individuals, groups, businesses, and cities to endorse this call to action and put pressure on national governments to negotiate an international Plant Based Treaty.”

This aligns with the title study suggesting that governments need to be involved and engaged with promoting plant-based eating. Individuals can make their own choices, but when they are underpinned by political persuasion, they reach further.

If previous studies are to be believed, the biggest positive outcomes will be seen by meat-eating men adopting plant-based lifestyles. According to a study published in peer-reviewed journal Plos One men create 40 percent more harmful emissions than women. Speculation as to why is ongoing but portion sizes and preference for meat and dairy have been floated as potential reasons.


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