Two new studies are making the case that people in high-income countries need to cut back on livestock-based foods, but they’re also suggesting that one-size-fits-all recommendations won’t work in all cases.
Though each advocates a major transformation in how the world eats and produces food in order to slow climate change—including a shift toward plant-based diets—they also say that consuming meat and dairy products in certain parts of the world, by certain populations, is critical for meeting nutritional goals.
One report explores the economic case for changing current food production and consumption habits, estimating that they cause about $12 trillion a year in damage to the environment, human health and development. If countries invested just half of 1 percent of global GDP in carbon-friendly agriculture, food waste reduction, reforestation and prescribing more plant-focused diets, among other measures, the world could sustainably feed itself and reduce the climate-related damage, the authors found.
In a second report, published Tuesday in the journal Global Environmental Change, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that modest shifts toward plant-based diets globally could cancel out the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from helping undernourished populations get adequate nutrition, including protein. The number of malnourished people in the world—roughly 820 million—remains stubbornly high.
Their study took nine different plant-focused diets and determined what the carbon impacts of each would be for 140 different countries around the world. The idea, Nachman explained, was to help policymakers in those countries understand how potential dietary shifts might impact nutritional needs and their carbon footprints.
The study comes in the wake of a series of reports, including one from the United Nations, calling for a global shift toward plant-based diets. During the negotiations on that report’s language, some developing countries argued that it was unfair to call for a broad, global reduction in meat consumption when some populations still lack enough protein.
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