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Including animal to plant protein shifts in climate change mitigation policy: a proposed three-step strategy


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Strong and rapid greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions, far beyond those currently committed to, are required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This allows no sector to maintain business as usual practices, while application of the precautionary principle requires avoiding a reliance on negative emission technologies. Animal to plant-sourced protein shifts offer substantial potential for GHG emission reductions. Unabated, the livestock sector could take between 37% and 49% of the GHG budget allowable under the 2°C and 1.5°C targets, respectively, by 2030. Inaction in the livestock sector would require substantial GHG reductions, far beyond what are planned or realistic, from other sectors. This outlook article outlines why animal to plant-sourced protein shifts should be taken up by the Conference of the Parties (COP), and how they could feature as part of countries’ mitigation commitments under their updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to be adopted from 2020 onwards. The proposed framework includes an acknowledgment of ‘peak livestock’, followed by targets for large and rapid reductions in livestock numbers based on a combined ‘worst first’ and ‘best available food’ approach. Adequate support, including climate finance, is needed to facilitate countries in implementing animal to plant-sourced protein shifts. Key policy insights • Given the livestock sector’s significant contribution to global GHG emissions and methane dominance, animal to plant protein shifts make a necessary contribution to meeting the Paris temperature goals and reducing warming in the short term, while providing a suite of co-benefits. • Without action, the livestock sector could take between 37% and 49% of the GHG budget allowable under the 2°C and 1.5°C targets, respectively, by 2030. • Failure to implement animal to plant protein shifts increases the risk of exceeding temperate goals; requires additional GHG reductions from other sectors; and increases reliance on negative emissions technologies. • COP 24 is an opportunity to bring animal to plant protein shifts to the climate mitigation table. • Revised NDCs from 2020 should include animal to plant protein shifts, starting with a declaration of ‘peak livestock’, followed by a ‘worst first’ replacement approach, guided by ‘best available food’.
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Including animal to plant protein shifts in climate change mitigation
policy: a proposed three-step strategy
Helen Harwatt
Farmed Animal Law and Policy Fellow, Animal Law & Policy Program, Harvard Law School, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA,
Strong and rapid greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions, far beyond those
currently committed to, are required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This
allows no sector to maintain business as usual practices, while application of the
precautionary principle requires avoiding a reliance on negative emission
technologies. Animal to plant-sourced protein shifts oer substantial potential for
GHG emission reductions. Unabated, the livestock sector could take between 37%
and 49% of the GHG budget allowable under the 2°C and 1.5°C targets,
respectively, by 2030. Inaction in the livestock sector would require substantial
GHG reductions, far beyond what are planned or realistic, from other sectors. This
outlook article outlines why animal to plant-sourced protein shifts should be
taken up by the Conference of the Parties (COP), and how they could feature as
part of countriesmitigation commitments under their updated Nationally
Determined Contributions (NDCs) to be adopted from 2020 onwards. The
proposed framework includes an acknowledgment of peak livestock, followed by
targets for large and rapid reductions in livestock numbers based on a combined
worst rstand best available foodapproach. Adequate support, including
climate nance, is needed to facilitate countries in implementing animal to plant-
sourced protein shifts.
Key policy insights
.Given the livestock sectors signicant contribution to global GHG emissions and
methane dominance, animal to plant protein shifts make a necessary
contribution to meeting the Paris temperature goals and reducing warming in
the short term, while providing a suite of co-benets.
.Without action, the livestock sector could take between 37% and 49% of the
GHG budget allowable under the 2°C and 1.5°C targets, respectively, by 2030.
.Failure to implement animal to plant protein shifts increases the risk of
exceeding temperate goals; requires additional GHG reductions from other
sectors; and increases reliance on negative emissions technologies.
.COP 24 is an opportunity to bring animal to plant protein shifts to the climate
mitigation table.
.Revised NDCs from 2020 should include animal to plant protein shifts, starting
with a declaration of peak livestock,followedbyaworst rstreplacement
approach, guided by best available food.
Received 12 March 2018
Accepted 21 September 2018
Climate change mitigation;
climate policy; Paris
agreement; COP 24; animal
to plant-protein shifts; animal
1. Introduction
The Paris Agreement represents a landmark in international eorts to combat climate change, with almost all
the worlds nations pledging to keep global average temperature rise to well below2°C above pre-industrial
levels, and ideally to no more than 1.5°C (UNFCCC, 2015). However, current unconditional commitments to
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CONTACT Helen Harwatt
the Paris Agreement are consistent with a 3.2°C rise this century, or a 3°C rise if conditional commitments are
also factored in (UNEP, 2017), but could be as high as 3.7°C according to some climate prediction models
(Brown & Caldeira, 2017).
If current commitments to the Paris Agreement are implemented, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
budget consistent with 1.5°C will be well depleted by 2030, by which point the budget consistent with
staying below 2°C this century will be almost exceeded (UNEP, 2017). Hence, for the Paris goals to remain achiev-
able, strong and rapid pre-2020 and pre-2030 mitigation is urgently required, in addition to enhanced longer
term commitments (UNEP, 2017).
When emissions are assessed over this timeframe, that is, up to 2030, methane (CH
) is slightly more abun-
dant than carbon dioxide (CO
) due to its relatively potent short-term warming impact (85 times greater Global
Warming Potential than CO
over a 20 year time frame) (Myhre et al., 2013). CH
is responsible for around 24% of
todays positive radiative forcing (proxy for todays warming) (Myhre et al., 2013), and CH
reduction has been
identied as a relatively quick way of contributing to climate goals, due to its short atmospheric lifetime (10
years), and potential to reduce the risk of exceeding temperature goals (Montzka, Dlugokencky, & Butler, 2011;
Ripple et al., 2014; Shindell et al., 2017). Hence, when assessing GHG reductions up to 2030, it is imperative to
consider CH
emissions, in addition to CO
. Achieving the central aim of the Paris Agreement will become
increasingly dicult if reductions in CH
emissions are not also addressed strongly and rapidly (Saunois,
Jackson, Bousquet, Poulter, & Canadell, 2016).
The main source of CH
emissions, the agricultural sector, has so far laid relatively low in the climate change
policy arena, with the energy sector receiving most attention (Bajzelj et al., 2014). This is largely due to a focus on
the most dominant GHG in terms of warming impact over the long term, CO
(IPCC, 2013). However, the scale of
GHG reductions required leaves no sector to business as usual practices, including energy and agriculture
(Blanco et al., 2014; Kuramochi et al., 2017; Richards, Wollenberg, & van Vuuren, 2018). An important consider-
ation to support this statement is the assumed use of Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs) in the 2nd half of
this century, to achieve the Paris Agreement. NETs are expected to remove carbon from the atmosphere and
store it permanently, mainly via Bio Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), aorestation and refor-
estation, biochar, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and enhanced soil carbon absorption. There are numerous
challenges with NETs, including the large land requirements and competition for water resources, potentially
threatening food security and biodiversity; the unproven and undeveloped nature of the technologies at the
scale required; the risk of reversal/emissions release post-implementation (Larkin, Kuriakose, Sharmina, & Ander-
son, 2017; UNEP, 2016); and the strong possibility of overshooting the Paris temperature goals while waiting for
NETs to become eective, in turn potentially triggering numerous system tipping points including the Green-
land and West Antarctic ice sheets (Boysen et al., 2017; Rahmstorf & Levermann, 2017; Steen et al., 2018).
While NETs might be considered an important strategy to help achieve the Paris Agreement (particularly the
1.5°C goal), (van Vuuren et al., 2018), due to these severe trade-os, large scale deployment of NETs cannot
provide a viable alternative to steep and rapid emissions reductions through other means (Boysen et al.,
2017). The precautionary principle states that Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent
or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse eects(Article 3.3, UNFCCC, 1992). Hence,
carbon budgets must be adhered to, and a wide range of mitigation options explored, without relying on uncer-
tain measures such as NETs.
Meeting the Paris Agreements temperature goal requires anthropogenic GHG emissions to peak as soon
as possible, then achieve net zero levels this century, possibly by 2050, which implies deep reductions of not
only CO
but also other major GHGs, CH
and N
O. The updating of nationally-determined contributions
(NDCs) from 2020 is a crucial step this is the nal opportunity to bring emissions in line with the Paris
Agreements temperature goals. A commitment to strong and rapid reductions up to 2030 must be included
(UNEP, 2017). Subsequently, the following sections demonstrate the necessity of adopting near term mitiga-
tion options in the agricultural sector, and a proposed overarching approach. Co-benets of, and support
required to implement the proposed actions are also outlined. It is assumed throughout that the proposed
actions in the agricultural sector are implemented in addition to, rather than instead of, strong action in
other sectors.
2. The crucial role of agriculture in meeting the Paris Agreement
Agriculture is a prime option for GHG mitigation, accounting for 24% of total GHG emissions and being the main
source of CH
and N
O (Smith et al., 2014). GHG emissions from agriculture are dominated by livestock, which is
itself the highest global source of CH
and N
emissions from the livestock sector are expected to increase
by 60% by 2030 (Smith et al., 2007), the same time period when strong and rapid GHG reductions are needed
(UNEP, 2017). Also problematic is a forecast growth in production across the entire livestock sector of 70% by
2050 (Alexandratos & Bruinsma, 2012).
In terms of temperature impact, the livestock sector is estimated to account for at least 23% of total warming
in 2010 (positive radiative forcing in 2010 compared to pre-industrial conditions). This gure is an underesti-
mate, omitting the majority of emissions related to feed production (including land use change), fertilizer
use, energy and transport (Reisinger & Clark, 2017). Key traits position livestock reduction as an attractive
option for both achieving long term GHG reduction goals and avoiding near term global temperature rise.
These include the signicant contribution of livestock production to global GHGs (at least 16.5% (FAO,
2018)), the dominance of CH
which has a relatively short atmospheric lifetime but potent warming impact,
and the relatively short timeframe needed to achieve signicant reductions. Livestock reduction should there-
fore feature centrally for climate mitigation policy in the agricultural sector.
While technological and management improvements could reduce livestock emissions by around a third,
these benets are being outpaced by increased demand for livestock products, and due to various adoption
constraints, only around 10% of the potential livestock-related technical GHG mitigation is viable (Gerber
et al., 2013; Herrero et al., 2016). A reduction in production levels is therefore needed to achieve greater GHG
emission cuts (Bryngelsson, Wirsenius, Hedenus, & Sonesson, 2016; Hedenus, Wirsenius, & Johansson, 2014;
Herrero et al., 2015; Herrero et al., 2016). The potential is substantial full implementation of animal to plant
protein shifts could reduce food related GHGs by 70% globally, by 2050 (Springmann, Godfray, Rayner, & Scar-
borough, 2016).
Without mitigation action, by 2030, the livestock sector could account for 27% to 49% of the emissions
budget (1934 billion metric tons CO
e) associated with a >66% chance of achieving the 1.5°C target; assuming
that emissions from the livestock sector increase at 0.07% per year, reaching 9.31 bmt CO
e by 2030, which is
likely an underestimated growth rate (Gerber et al., 2013; Smith et al., 2014; UNEP, 2017). For a >66% chance of
staying below 2°C, the livestock sector could take 2237% of the allowable emissions budget (2543 bmt CO
in 2030 (UNEP, 2017; Vrontisi et al., 2016). Hence, inaction in the livestock sector would require much steeper
reductions from other sectors. This will be very challenging, especially given the long lock-in period associated
with technology change in the fossil fuel sector (around 20 years) (IEA, 2013). Therefore, while countries plan
their enhanced contributions to the Paris Agreement for 2020 onwards, livestock replacement should be
included as a key measure. The following section sets out a potential overarching approach to this end.
3. An overarching three-step strategy for including animal to plant sourced protein shifts in
climate policy
The proposed course of action for tackling livestock replacement described here is guided by best available
science to necessarily deliver large and rapid GHG reductions. Steps 1, 2 and 3 provide an overarching frame-
work for addressing mitigation options in the short term and beyond, through animal to plant protein shifts.
Policy makers can use the 3-step approach to structure animal to plant protein shifts, and subsequently identify
context specic/relevant implementation policies.
3.1. Peak livestock step 1
The global livestock population is at an all-time high of 28 billion animals, dominated by chickens which account
for 82%. Over the past 20 years, the farmed chicken population has risen from 14 billion to 23 billion animals.
Cattle have increased from 1.3 billion to 1.5 billion animals, sheep have increased from 1 billion to 1.2 billion
animals, ducks from 0.9 billion to 1.2 billion animals, goats from 0.7 billion to 1 billion animals, and pigs from
0.8 billion to 1 billion animals (FAO, 2016)(Figure 1). These numbers continue to increase and are expected to
rise substantially as global population grows and increasing auence drives changes in consumer preferences,
particularly in developing economies (Bajzelj et al., 2014; Godfray et al., 2018). The rst step for policymakers in
terms of making commitments for GHG emission reductions from livestock is to acknowledge peaklivestock,
meaning that the current numbers are at their peak and will henceforth decline. In line with the Paris Agree-
ment, it is recognized that peaking may take longer for developing countries (UNFCCC, 2015).
3.2. Worst rstapproach step 2
Following peak livestock, as a logical starting point in a transition away from livestock products, foods associated
with the highest GHGs could be replaced rst. This worst rsttransition would therefore replace the highest
emitting livestock product, and use the lessons learnt from this to assist in subsequent transitions away from
the next largest emitter. For example, at the global level, beef accounts for the largest GHG footprint, followed
by cow milk, pig meat, chicken meat, bualo milk and chicken eggs (Table 1). Hence, the worst rst approach
based on global emissions would focus on beef, followed by cow milk and so on according to Table 1. At the
country level, it is important to assess GHG inventories by animal species and products as it could be possible
that, for example, sheep rather than cattle are the highest emitters in some places due to the amount of pro-
duction. Replacement targets could be set according to GHG budgets, the potential for GHG reductions, and the
pace of change that would be possible in terms of implementing animal to plant protein shifts.
3.3. Best available food step 3
This concept is adopted from the pollution control strategy best available technologyand should accompany
the worst rstapproach to inform food replacement. For example, the suitability of replacements for livestock
products can be assessed against a range of criteria including GHGs and other environmental impacts such as
water and land use, and public health impacts. Nutritious foods high in protein are likely to be important repla-
cements, such as beans which produce 46 times less GHGs in comparison to beef, on a protein equivalent basis
(Gerber et al., 2013; Nijdam, Rood, & Westhoek, 2012). Replacing beef with beans can contribute signicantly to
GHG targets and provides an example of the worst rst/best available foodapproach. For example, in the
Figure 1. Number of farm animals (world total) 19972016.
United States, substituting beans for beef at the national level could deliver up to 75% of the 2020 GHG
reduction target and spare an area of land 1.5 times the size of California, with no loss of protein or calories
to the food system (Harwatt, Sabaté, Eshel, Soret, & Ripple, 2017). On an equal protein basis, beans also have
a very similar amino acid prole to beef, and contain more iron and calcium, provide bre and no cholesterol
(USDA, 2016a,2016b). In situations where a like-for-like replacement is most suitable, plant-based meat and milk
analogues that look and taste like their animal-sourced alternatives could play an important role and have a
lower GHG footprint (similar to pulses) (Nijdam et al., 2012; Schösler, de Boer, & Boersema, 2012).
4. Co-benets of including animal to plant sourced protein shifts in climate policy
Climate change is expected to reduce food availability across the world, resulting in around half a million deaths
by 2050 (Springmann, Mason-DCroz, et al., 2016). Food security is a key consideration in the Paris Agreement:
Recognizing the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulner-
abilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change(UNFCCC, 2015). Animal to plant-
sourced protein shifts have the potential to increase food security in numerous ways. Globally, 77% of agricul-
tural land is used for animal agriculture, which in turn provides 17% of calories and 33% of protein for global
consumption (Roser & Ritchie, 2018). Crops grown for human consumption use 23% of agricultural land in
exchange for 83% of calories and 67% of protein for global consumption (Roser & Ritchie, 2018). Plant-
sourced alternatives to livestock products, such as beans, tend to require far fewer natural resources including
land, nitrogen, phosphorus, water and energy, and result in lower GHG emissions (Eshel, Shepon, Makov, & Milo,
2014; Nijdam et al., 2012; Poore & Nemecek, 2018; Sabate, Sranacharoenpong, Harwatt, Wien, & Soret, 2014).
Feed conversion is a major issue globally a third of all calories produced are fed to animals with only 12%
of those calories returning as livestock products such as meat and milk (Cassidy, West, Gerber, & Foley, 2013)
a loss of 29% of all calories produced globally. A recent analysis applied a health-sensitive approach to
animal to plant-sourced food shifts and found this would involve changes in agricultural systems away from
feed crops to crops that constitute healthy alternatives for human consumption, such as legumes, fruits and veg-
etables. Taking this approach in the US would feed an additional 350 million people, in comparison to the
current food system (Shepon, Eshel, Noor, & Milo, 2018). At the level of individual foods, to deliver 1 calorie
of beef to the food system requires 37 calories of plants, 1 calorie of pork requires 12 calories of plants, 1
calorie of chicken requires 9 plant calories, 1 calorie of eggs and 1 calorie of dairy each require 6 plant calories
(Eshel et al., 2014). Switching from animal to plant proteins can actually increase, not decrease, global protein
supply, in addition to reducing GHG emissions and land use (Bryngelsson et al., 2016).
Table 1. Global greenhouse gas emissions (million metric tonnes CO
e) from the 12 most highly produced livestock products.
Quantity of production:
million metric tonnes of
carcass weight
Greenhouse gases: CO
e /kg (carcass
weight meat and fat and protein
corrected milk)
Emissions (million
metric tonnes CO
Proportion of global
e emissions (%)
Beef (including veal) 66 46.2 3,048 5.86
Cow milk 659 2.8 1,846 3.55
Pig meat 118 6.1 721 1.39
Chicken meat 107 5.4 579 1.11
Bualo milk 111 3.4 377 0.73
Chicken eggs 74 3.7 273 0.53
Sheep meat 9 23.8 222 0.43
Bualo meat 4 53.4 204 0.39
Goat meat 6 23.8 134 0.26
Goat milk 15 6.5 99 0.19
Sheep milk 10 6.5 67 0.13
Turkey meat 6 5.4 33 0.06
Duck meat 5 5.4 24 0.05
Total 7,627 14.7
Product yield data from FAOSTAT (FAO, 2016).
GHG emission factors for each product from the FAO (Gerber et al., 2013), calculated using a 100 year accounting timeframe.
Calculated by multiplying production weight by emissions factor.
From a global total of 52,000 million metric tonnes CO
Reducing the production of livestock and restoring land spared to its natural habitat can potentially contrib-
ute to carbon sequestration, as a supplement to strong and rapid GHG reductions. For example, in the UK, a 50%
reduction in the production of calories from animal products combined with restoring the land to its natural
habitat and vegetation could deliver an 80% reduction of UK GHGs from 1990 levels (Lamb et al., 2016). Bryn-
gelsson et al. (2016) estimated the carbon sequestration potential of various dietary congurations and demon-
strated that only shifting to a food system based entirely on plants in Sweden could deliver a net negative GHG
balance, with sequestration of around 125 kg CO
per person per year over a 100 year time frame.
Since 1960, animal agriculture has caused 65% of land use change globally (Alexander et al., 2015), in order to
grow feed crops for farmed animals, and to house farmed animals (in pasture and feedlots), at the expense of
native forest, grasslands or savannah (Stoll-Kleemann & Schmidt, 2017). Animal agriculture is responsible for the
majority of eutrophication and subsequent creation of dead zones, being linked to 72% of phosphorus and
63% of nitrogen pollution (from farm animal manure and chemical fertilizers applied to farm animal feed
crops) (Pelletier & Tyedmers, 2010). A recent analysis estimates that a global shift from animal to arable agricul-
ture could reduce the land use footprint of food by 76%, and eutrophication by 49% (using 2010 as the reference
year) (Poore & Nemecek, 2018).
Animal to plant-sourced protein shifts can deliver numerous co-benets to biodiversity and human health, in
addition to nancial cost savings through reduced health care requirements (Godfray et al., 2018; Machovina,
Feeley, & Ripple, 2015; Springmann, Godfray, et al., 2016). Such co-benets could form the basis of joined up
policy making across multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), integrating climate, health and environ-
mental policies.
5. Supporting measures required for implementing animal to plant-sourced protein shifts
Animal to plant-sourced protein shifts deliver maximum benets if implemented in the near term, providing the
greatest hedge against a high climate response and in turn reducing the adaptation and damage costs of
climate change impacts. Early mitigation reduces the nancial costs of implementation, in comparison to delay-
ing action to the long term (Cai, Lenton, & Lontzek, 2016; Campbell et al., 2017; Millar et al., 2017). Hence, sup-
porting measures should be provided in the near term, starting with a strategic focus on how best to facilitate
animal to plant-sourced protein shifts at the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24).
Countries should be permitted to request nancial aid to adopt animal to plant-sourced protein shifts as a
climate change mitigation measure, under the same process that they can request support for technologi-
cally-focused carbon reduction measures. For countries where climate nance is not required, a focus on
subsidy restructuring to support livestock producers and feed growers to transition their businesses would
most likely be needed. Ensuring food producers are adequately educated and skilled for the transition is a
key support measure. Support and action should be inclusive of subnational and non-state actors, including
regional and local governments and businesses (UNEP, 2017). Such actors could also adopt the three-step strat-
egy (peak livestock, worst-rst combined with best available food), in their production and/or purchasing pol-
icies. This might produce a dierent list of priorities, for example for a food service provider compared to a
national GHG inventory, where chicken or pig meat might be an early focus due to purchase quantities.
Financial incentives for food manufacturers to supply adequate quantities and types of livestock replacement
products, such as for meat and milk, could be important particularly in countries with high consumption of
animal products. Educating consumers could support the global transition. People with an awareness of the
environmental impacts of livestock products have a higher likelihood of having already reduced their consump-
tion, or reducing in the future (Bailey, Froggatt, & Wellesley, 2014). Developing education materials for a range of
audiences may be helpful, including the food industry and national curriculum programmes for schools, colleges
and universities.
6. Conclusion
The agriculture sector oers substantial potential for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, and numer-
ous co-benets, through animal to plant-sourced protein shifts. Unabated, the livestock sector could take
between 37% and 49% of the emissions budget allowable under the 2°C and 1.5°C target, respectively, by the
end of the next decade. Hence, inaction in the livestock sector means substantial GHG reductions, far beyond
what is planned or realistic, for other sectors. The next 12 years are crucial beginning the process of animal to
plant-sourced protein shifts should be taken up at COP 24, and feature in countriesrevised NDCs from 2020
onwards. Action on animal to plant protein shifts can also be spearheaded by subnational and non-state
actors, including regional and local governments and businesses.
The global livestock population is at an all-time high currently at 28 billion animals and rising. The proposed
three-step strategy for including animal to plant-sourced protein shifts in climate policy begins with an acknowl-
edgment of peak livestock, closely followed by large and rapid reductions in livestock numbers based on a com-
bined worst rstand best available foodapproach, replacing the highest emitting foods with alternatives that
provide maximum environmental and health benets. At the global level, this would rstly entail a beans for
beefswitch, or similar, as beef currently has the largest GHG footprint in the livestock sector, followed by
cow milk. The order of worst rstmay dier between countries and should be identied through national
GHG inventories. The key recommendation is to base animal to plant-sourced protein shifts on a science-
guided approach for achieving large and rapid GHG reductions together with maximum provisions for sup-
plementary carbon sequestration through restoring ecosystems to their natural states, and delivery of co-
benets in relation to biodiversity, food security and public health. Such co-benets provide opportunities
for joined up policy making across multiple SDGs. Adequate support will be needed to facilitate countries in
implementing animal to plant-sourced protein shifts. Future research needs include the identication of
detailed transition pathways for animal to plant-sourced protein shifts, including targets, policy measures, time-
frames, and quantication of co-benets.
I am grateful to three anonymous reviewers and Dr Depledge for their careful reviews and suggestions.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
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... The scientific consensus is clear, that to have any chance of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 °C or lower we must limit all future emissions to less than 420 gigatonnes of CO2e (IPCC, 2018). If livestock sector growth continues in a business as usual manner, this one sector alone would account for up to 49 percent of the 420 gigatonnes of CO2e emissions budget by 2030 (Harwatt, 2019;Harwatt et al., 2020). Confronted with such stark evidence the imperative to reach peak livestock 1 (Anhang, 2018;Harwatt et al., 2020) and set appropriate reduction targets for production as quickly as possible appears clear. ...
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Executive Summary 1. Livestock are raised in 208 countries around the world for human consumption. This sector provides meat-based protein, milk and supply raw material for other industrial products. It is estimated that globally between 600 million (Thornton et al., 2002; Thornton et al., 2009) and 1.3 billion (The World Bank, 2020; van de Steeg et al., 2009) people are dependent on livestock for their livelihood. Livestock contributes only 1.5 percent to the global economy. 2. Livestock production occupies up to 75 percent of global agricultural land (Foley et al., 2011) and up to 45 percent of the land surface of the planet (Ritchie and Roser, 2013). Livestock farming consumes 30 percent of agricultural freshwater (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2012; Ran et al., 2017), 58 percent of the economically appropriated plant biomass and farmed animals have come to dominate the biosphere with 60 percent of all mammals on the planet being domesticated. 3. From a nutritional and economic perspective, livestock products play a surprisingly small role in our diets and economy. Livestock products provide only 17 percent of average global calorie intake and 30 percent of average global protein intake (Mottet et al., 2017), and livestock now consume more human edible protein than they produce (Steinfeld et al., 2006a). 4. Total number of livestock estimated to be raised in 2018 are 28.6 billion. It includes 1.4 billion cattle, 206 million buffaloes, 1.2 billion sheep, a little over 1 billion goats, 978 million pigs, and 24 billion poultry. 5. Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the production of six types of livestock (cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry) are estimated to be in the range of 10.7 – 16.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) assuming a global warming potential (GWP) for methane of 34 and 86 respectively. 6. This includes enteric fermentation (CH4) between 3.4 – 8.8 Gt CO2e, manure management (CH4) between 343 – 890 Mt CO2e, manure management (N2O) at 119 Mt CO2e, manure grazing (N2O) at 870 Mt CO2e, animal feed (CO2) at 143 Mt CO2e, fertiliser (N2O) at 253 Mt CO2e, fertiliser (CO2) at 291 Mt CO2e, crop residue (N2O) at 77 Mt CO2e, foregone soil carbon sequestration (CO2) at 1.4 Gt CO2e, LUC for pasture expansion (CO2) at 1.8 Gt CO2e, LUC for cropland expansion (CO2) at 141 Mt CO2e, degraded grazing land (CO2) at 244 Mt CO2e, animal respiration (CO2) at 1.86 Gt. 7. Our results show that, total livestock related emissions are in the range of 19.2 – 30.3 percent of the total anthropogenic global emissions from all economic sectors (55.6 Gt in 2018). 8. Our results include estimates for foregone soil carbon sequestration from the land that is used to grow animal feed, land use change (LUC) due to pasture and cropland expansion, degraded grazing land and includes animal respiration, However, we did not include transport, energy and processing related emissions due to lack of publicly available granular data at local to global scale. We assume that our estimates would significantly improve if we include energy, transport and processing related emissions. 9. We also estimated carbon sequestration potential from afforestation of cropland that is currently used to grow animal feed. It ranged from 38 Gt CO2 assuming low biomass estimates to 225 Gt CO2 assuming the highest estimates of biomass accumulation. 10. Further research can help to refine these estimates by using granular data about each stage of livestock value chain 11. While we estimate total GHG emissions attributable to global livestock sector, there are several other environmental, social and health impacts that need further attention by future research, practice and policy.
... In response to global warming, the international communities have come to scientific consensus and brought out some solutions. Major countries have signed the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), focusing on reducing CEs and achieving sustainable development from socio-economic perspective [12,13]. The Chinese government has actively participated in global climate change governance and international cooperation, and signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, and then the Paris Agreement in 2015 [14], demonstrating that China is taking a serious attitude and action in terms of mitigating global climate change. ...
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Carbon emissions (CEs) are one of the most important factors causing global warming. The development of social economy and the acceleration of the urbanization process leads to increasing CEs, especially in China. Therefore, it has become an international community consensus to control the growth of CEs and mitigate global warming. Understanding the changing patterns and driving forces of CEs are important prerequisites for formulating policies that target the reduction of CEs in response to global warming. This study developed an improved logarithmic mean Divisia index (Spatial-LMDI) to explore the urban form and socio-economic driving forces of CEs in China. Comparing with previous studies, this study is unique in the way of applying spatial landscape index to LMDI decomposition analysis. The results show that population, per capita GDP, investment intensity and urban expansion are the top driving forces of CEs growth from 1995 to 2019. Investment efficiency, technology level, and aggregation are the most important factors in terms of restraining the growth of CEs. To achieve the goal of energy saving, CEs reduction and climate change mitigation, we proposed that strategies should be formulated as follows: improving efficiency of energy investment, optimizing the spatial distribution of construction land aggregation, and rationalizing distribution of industries.
... The lack of government policies and regulations is among the pertinent barriers identified by this review (Chirambo, 2018;Simbanegavi and Arndt, 2014). Sustainable agribusiness policies and regulations are relevant for guiding the choices of stakeholders to accomplish a coherent result (Harwatt, 2019) to cut down the consequences of climate crisis. Policies and regulations are largely supervised by governmental agencies or industrial regulators (Parker et al., 2019) to ensure efficient operation. ...
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Purpose - As global concerns for sustainability have gained traction in all sectors of every economy including agribusiness, the need to investigate the critical barriers that could hamper this novelty has also risen. In that regard, this study presents a comprehensive overview of the dominant barriers encountered by agribusinesses to ensure long-term success through the lenses of literature review. Design/methodology/approach - The study used a systematic literature review (SLR) of 43 relevant articles. The study applies content analysis to identify and analyze the selected articles. The conceptual framework underlines the three principal barriers to sustainable agribusinesses. Findings - The results from the SLR demonstrates that inadequate financial support, excessive post-harvest loss, gender inequality, non-climate-smart policies, and weak institutional controls constitute the major challenges to the sustainability of agribusinesses. Originality – This study’s uniqueness is twofold. First, it provides a checklist for practice with the goal of addressing problems that hamper the sustainability of agribusinesses. Second, the findings and research gaps in this study are important to support future studies. Research limitations/implications - The study is limited in scope to barriers to the sustainability of agribusiness only not the broad spectrum of the concept of agriculture. Managerial or Policy Implication - This review holds immense meaning especially in the area of novel adoption of the sustainability of agribusiness enabling stakeholders to be aware of the probable difficulties awaiting.
... In particular, livestock is responsible for more than half of the global food systems' GHG emissions (Gerber et al., 2013) and a third of agricultural land and water use (Hoekstra, 2014;Steinfeld et al., 2010). Given the planet's finite resources, a growing body of literature emphasizes the broken and unsustainable state of the current global food system (Harwatt, 2019;Rosenzweig et al., 2020). The global production of meat and dairy is expected to increase by 73% and 58%, respectively, in 205073% and 58%, respectively, in compared to 201173% and 58%, respectively, in (McLeod, 2011Tilman and Clark, 2014). ...
Agriculture constitutes a quarter and more than a third of Denmark's global greenhouses gas (GHG) emissions and natural resource consumption, respectively. This paper aims to estimate the potential to lower Denmark's global food-related GHG, blue water and land footprints using the most recent version of a hybrid global multi-regional input-output (MRIO) database, EXIOBASE of the reference year, 2011. Specifically, we apply the 'what if' scenario-based MRIO approach to EXIOBASE and quantify the impact of increased livestock feed efficiency (FE), dietary changes, food loss and waste (FLW) reduction/prevention and food waste treatment scenarios on Denmark's global food-related GHG and resource footprints. We obtain modest reductions in Denmark's global GHG, blue water and cropland footprint from the combination of livestock FE improvements and FLW reduction relative to the footprints; 61 kt CO2e, 2 Mm3 and 30 kha, respectively. In contrast, dietary change towards no/less meat and dairy diets embodies the most significant reductions potential for Denmark's total global food-related GHG, blue water, croplands and grassland footprint by up to 34% (3.63 Mt. CO2e), 8% (90 Mm3), 23% (371 kha) and 78% (386 kha) respectively. A key policy priority should therefore be the nudging of Danish consumers towards sustainable diets. Also, this study's findings emphasise that FLW prevention remains the most effective food waste-related climate mitigation and resource efficiency strategy despite the benefits of food waste valorisation.
BACKGROUND: There is a growing interest in diets due to the high contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE). OBJECTIVE: The study was aimed to estimate the impact on GHGE of replacing the current diet with eight alternative diets, which would be associated with GHGE, to contribute to the discussion of how dietary changes affect the GHGE. METHODS: The latest National Nutrition and Health Survey was utilized to determine the nutrient composition of Turkey’s current diet, with eight dietary scenarios designed to meet the National Dietary Guidelines. RESULTS: The current diet had the highest GHGE with 3254.50 g CO2eq/person/day with beef, lamb, and cheese products accounting for the majority of emissions (18.61%, 17.15%, and 10.89%, respectively). The Model diet had a GHGE of 2994.18 g CO2eq/person/day, whereas vegetarian diets had the lowest (lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with 1944.95 g CO2eq/person/day and vegan diet with 1166.80 g CO2eq/person/day). Low energy efficiencies were associated with high diet-related GHGE levels. CONCLUSION: When evaluating future dietary guidelines for a sustainable diet, our study highlighted the need of integrating both health and environmental aspects. The present study found that dietary changes would significantly contribute to lowering GHGE. These findings will be beneficial in informing Turkey’s nutrition, agriculture, and public policymakers.
Proteins are essential on human nutrition and health, and it is crucial for the development of the human body. While animal protein is considered to be the primary dietary protein source for decades, there is a paradigm shift in recent years on the dietary consumption patterns among the general population towards plant-based food proteins. As a result, plant protein production in the food industry has skyrocketed. Research has led to a closer look at diverse plant sources and their capacity to replace conventional animal-based proteins for health and environmental reasons. Soy protein is a high-quality protein with a protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of 1.00, which is close to some of the proteins from animal sources, such as meat and dairy. Soy proteins contain well-balanced essential amino acids except for sulfur-containing ones like methionine. They also have desirable textures with endless possibilities to formulate various sophisticated soy-based food products. Due to their high protein content and versatility in developing food products, soy proteins are the primary supply of plant-based proteins and are widely consumed by diverse populations worldwide. This review first briefly compared plant-based proteins as well as animal proteins regarding their health and environmental benefits, amino acid composition, and protein digestibility. As one of the most popular plant proteins, soy protein was introduced, and its byproducts-making processes (heat processing, protein isolation, and fermentation) were discussed in detail. Finally, the relationship between soy protein consumption and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, women menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, cancer, and abdominal body fat, was highlighted by analyzing recent clinical studies.
Legumes are critical for human nutrition going forward as well as playing a critical role in resilience to assist human populations in dealing with systems shocks. The COVID-19 food shocks of 2020 laid bare the potential long-term need to optimize legume use in global populations. At the same time, there has been an on-going trend towards the increased use of legumes in diverse food applications. Legumes have unique properties that, if exploited, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy consumption, preserve water, increase carbon sequestration while at the same time contributing to soil health through nitrogen fixation. Legume rich diets also provide important health benefits that can result in reduced life-long health care costs. As such, legumes are poised to play an important role in meeting three of the most pressing global challenges of our day – population growth, urbanization, and climate change. Moving forward, coordinated efforts are needed to further expand the role of legumes in food systems globally.
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This Guidance Memo provides a comparative analysis of the production and consumption of animal flesh in six important and illustrative countries, as a basis for assessing the potential of rising plant-meat production and consumption. A core argument is that a rapid and radical transition away from animal flesh-centered diets is an urgent environmental priority, starting in the world's wealthiest countries where per capita consumption is highest, followed by middle income countries where per capita consumption is rising fastest. Another related argument is that plant-meats could have a crucial role speeding this dietary transition, although they do not comprise a proverbial silver bullet. The ultimate aim of this memo is to help environmental and animal advocates appreciate the context and dynamism of plant-meat development, which in turn leads to insights about messaging and how to support growth and direct substitution in diets-what we refer to as re-meatification-moving forwards.
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The demand for meat and dairy products is expected to double by 2050 due to population growth and changing consumption patterns worldwide. According to the IPCC, meeting the target of keeping the global temperature rise below 2°C by the middle of the century calls for massive emission cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and natural resource use consumption associated with the global food system. In recent times, globalization and increased trade of food products have resulted in the displacement of environmental impacts related to local food consumption to regions overseas. Therefore, global mitigation options for agri-food climate- and resource use pressures requires that countries monitor and lower the environmental pressures from food consumption within and beyond their local borders. The current Danish environmental policy lays down ambitious targets to mitigate the territorial environmental impacts of Denmark’s agri-food industry, with GHG emissions, water quality and biodiversity at the centre of policy attention. However, a shortcoming of Denmark’s present climate and environmental policies is that they do not tackle the environmental pressures associated with food products consumed within Danish borders but produced overseas. In this context, a growing body of research proposes that allow country-specific estimation of environmental pressures from consuming locally sourced and imported products. This PhD project applies two consumption-based (CB) environmental accounting methods, namely the environmentally extended multi-regional input-output analysis and biophysical model of agricultural trade to evaluate Denmark’s national and subnational food-related CB accounts (or footprints) for GHG emissions (i.e. carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O)), and cropland, grassland and blue water use from 1995 to 2014. Secondly, the thesis quantifies the potential for Denmark to reduce its global food-related GHG emissions and resource consumption based on scenarios that include household dietary shifts towards plant-based foods and food waste prevention as well as improvements in livestock feed use efficiencies...
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We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a "Hothouse Earth" pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System-biosphere, climate, and societies-and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.
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Both the global average per capita consumption of meat and the total amount of meat consumed are rising, driven by increasing average individual incomes and by population growth. The consumption of different types of meat and meat products has substantial effects on people’s health, and livestock production can have major negative effects on the environment. Here, we explore the evidence base for these assertions and the options policy-makers have should they wish to intervene to affect population meat consumption. We highlight where more research is required and the great importance of integrating insights from the natural and social sciences.
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Food's environmental impacts are created by millions of diverse producers. To identify solutions that are effective under this heterogeneity, we consolidated data covering five environmental indicators; 38,700 farms; and 1600 processors, packaging types, and retailers. Impact can vary 50-fold among producers of the same product, creating substantial mitigation opportunities. However, mitigation is complicated by trade-offs, multiple ways for producers to achieve low impacts, and interactions throughout the supply chain. Producers have limits on how far they can reduce impacts. Most strikingly, impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change. Cumulatively, our findings support an approach where producers monitor their own impacts, flexibly meet environmental targets by choosing from multiple practices, and communicate their impacts to consumers.
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Mitigation scenarios that achieve the ambitious targets included in the Paris Agreement typically rely on greenhouse gas emission reductions combined with net carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere, mostly accomplished through large-scale application of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and afforestation. However, CDR strategies face several difficulties such as reliance on underground CO2 storage and competition for land with food production and biodiversity protection. The question arises whether alternative deep mitigation pathways exist. Here, using an integrated assessment model, we explore the impact of alternative pathways that include lifestyle change, additional reduction of non-CO2 greenhouse gases and more rapid electrification of energy demand based on renewable energy. Although these alternatives also face specific difficulties, they are found to significantly reduce the need for CDR, but not fully eliminate it. The alternatives offer a means to diversify transition pathways to meet the Paris Agreement targets, while simultaneously benefiting other sustainability goals.
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Food loss is widely recognized as undermining food security and environmental sustainability. However, consumption of resource-intensive food items instead of more efficient, equally nutritious alternatives can also be considered as an effective food loss. Here we define and quantify these opportunity food losses as the food loss associated with consuming resource-intensive animal-based items instead of plant-based alternatives which are nutritionally comparable, e.g., in terms of protein content. We consider replacements that minimize cropland use for each of the main US animal-based food categories. We find that although the characteristic conventional retail-to-consumer food losses are ≈30% for plant and animal products, the opportunity food losses of beef, pork, dairy, poultry, and eggs are 96%, 90%, 75%, 50%, and 40%, respectively. This arises because plant-based replacement diets can produce 20-fold and twofold more nutritionally similar food per cropland than beef and eggs, the most and least resource-intensive animal categories, respectively. Although conventional and opportunity food losses are both targets for improvement, the high opportunity food losses highlight the large potential savings beyond conventionally defined food losses. Concurrently replacing all animal-based items in the US diet with plant-based alternatives will add enough food to feed, in full, 350 million additional people, well above the expected benefits of eliminating all supply chain food waste. These results highlight the importance of dietary shifts to improving food availability and security.
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Globally, agriculture and related land use change contributed about 17% of the world’s anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2010 (8.4 GtCO2e yr⁻¹), making GHG mitigation in the agriculture sector critical to meeting the Paris Agreement’s 2°C goal. This article proposes a range of country-level targets for mitigation of agricultural emissions by allocating a global target according to five approaches to effort-sharing for climate change mitigation: responsibility, capability, equality, responsibility-capability-need and equal cumulative per capita emissions. Allocating mitigation targets according to responsibility for total historical emissions or capability to mitigate assigned large targets for agricultural emission reductions to North America, Europe and China. Targets based on responsibility for historical agricultural emissions resulted in a relatively even distribution of targets among countries and regions. Meanwhile, targets based on equal future agricultural emissions per capita or equal per capita cumulative emissions assigned very large mitigation targets to countries with large agricultural economies, while allowing some densely populated countries to increase agricultural emissions. There is no single ‘correct’ framework for allocating a global mitigation goal. Instead, using these approaches as a set provides a transparent, scientific basis for countries to inform and help assess the significance of their commitments to reducing emissions from the agriculture sector. Key policy insights • Meeting the Paris Agreement 2°C goal will require global mitigation of agricultural non-CO2 emissions of approximately 1 GtCO2e yr⁻¹ by 2030. • Allocating this 1 GtCO2e yr⁻¹ according to various effort-sharing approaches, it is found that countries will need to mitigate agricultural business-as-usual emissions in 2030 by a median of 10%. Targets vary widely with criteria used for allocation. • The targets calculated here are in line with the ambition of the few countries (primarily in Africa) that included mitigation targets for the agriculture sector in their (Intended) Nationally Determined Contributions. • For agriculture to contribute to meeting the 2°C or 1.5°C targets, countries will need to be ambitious in pursuing emission reductions. Technology development and transfer will be particularly important.
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Climate models provide the principal means of projecting global warming over the remainder of the twenty-first century but modelled estimates of warming vary by a factor of approximately two even under the same radiative forcing scenarios. Across-model relationships between currently observable attributes of the climate system and the simulated magnitude of future warming have the potential to inform projections. Here we show that robust across-model relationships exist between the global spatial patterns of several fundamental attributes of Earth’s top-of-atmosphere energy budget and the magnitude of projected global warming. When we constrain the model projections with observations, we obtain greater means and narrower ranges of future global warming across the major radiative forcing scenarios, in general. In particular, we find that the observationally informed warming projection for the end of the twenty-first century for the steepest radiative forcing scenario is about 15 per cent warmer (+0.5 degrees Celsius) with a reduction of about a third in the two-standard-deviation spread (−1.2 degrees Celsius) relative to the raw model projections reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Our results suggest that achieving any given global temperature stabilization target will require steeper greenhouse gas emissions reductions than previously calculated.
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We explore the role of agriculture in destabilizing the Earth system at the planetary scale, through examining nine planetary boundaries, or "safe limits": land-system change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows, biosphere integrity, climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading, and introduction of novel entities. Two planetary boundaries have been fully transgressed, i.e., are at high risk, biosphere integrity and biogeochemical flows, and agriculture has been the major driver of the transgression. Three are in a zone of uncertainty i.e., at increasing risk, with agriculture the major driver of two of those, land-system change and freshwater use, and a significant contributor to the third, climate change. Agriculture is also a significant or major contributor to change for many of those planetary boundaries still in the safe zone. To reduce the role of agriculture in transgressing planetary boundaries, many interventions will be needed, including those in broader food systems.
This article identifies and quantifies the 10 most important benchmarks for climate action to be taken by 2020–2025 to keep the window open for a 1.5°C-consistent GHG emission pathway. We conducted a comprehensive review of existing emissions scenarios, scanned all sectors and the respective necessary transitions, and distilled the most important short-term benchmarks for action in line with the long-term perspective of the required global low-carbon transition. Owing to the limited carbon budget, combined with the inertia of existing systems, global energy economic models find only limited pathways to stay on track for a 1.5°C world consistent with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.
Agriculture directly contributes about 10-12% of current global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, mostly from livestock. However, such percentage estimates are based on Global Warming Potentials (GWPs), which do not measure the actual warming caused by emissions and ignore the fact that methane does not accumulate in the atmosphere in the same way as CO2. Here we employ a simple carbon cycle-climate model, historical estimates and future projections of livestock emissions to infer the fraction of actual warming that is attributable to direct livestock non-CO2 emissions now and in future, and to CO2 from pasture conversions, without relying on GWPs. We find that direct livestock non-CO2 emissions caused about 19% of the total modelled warming of 0.81°C from all anthropogenic sources in 2010. CO2 from pasture conversions contributed at least another 0.03°C, bringing the warming directly attributable to livestock to 23% of the total warming in 2010. The significance of direct livestock emissions to future warming depends strongly on global actions to reduce emissions from other sectors. Direct non-CO2 livestock emissions would contribute only about 5% of the warming in 2100 if emissions from other sectors increase unabated, but could constitute as much as 18% (0.27°C) of the warming in 2100 if global CO2 emissions from other sectors are reduced to near or below zero by 2100, consistent with the goal of limiting warming to well below 2°C. These estimates constitute a lower bound since indirect emissions linked to livestock feed production and supply chains were not included. Our estimates demonstrate that expanding the mitigation potential and realizing substantial reductions of direct livestock non-CO2 emissions through demand and supply side measures can make an important contribution to achieve the stringent mitigation goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including by increasing the carbon budget consistent with the 1.5°C goal.