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Shift to plant-based foods could halt forest reduction

A recent study has assessed the potential impacts of a global shift from livestock products to plant-based alternatives. The findings indicate that such a shift could have profound positive effects on the global food system and the environment.

Using an economic land use model, the researchers assessed the effects of substituting 50 per cent of all pork, chicken, beef and milk with plant-based alternatives by 2050. The study predicts two key outcomes:

  • Almost complete halting of the net reduction of forest and natural land.
  • A significant decrease of 31 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use compared to 2020 levels.

Moreover, the study suggests that if agricultural land within forest ecosystems is restored to its natural state, the climate benefits could be doubled, reaching up to 92 per cent of the previously estimated land sector mitigation potential. Additionally, this restored land could make a substantial contribution, ranging from 13 to 25 per cent, toward meeting the global land restoration goals set under the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework by 2030.

Regionally, the impacts of this dietary shift vary. China would experience the largest cuts in nitrogen and water use, while Sub-Saharan Africa and South America would witness the most significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and increase in area of restored land.

Source: Nature Communications 12 September 2023 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-40899-2

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