Getting protein from plant sources instead of animals could help meet climate targets and reduce the risk of overshooting temperature goals, scientists say.
Eating less meat can help mitigate climate change
A study published in the journal Climate Policy has found that livestock sector could use almost half of the 1.5 degrees Celsius greenhouse gas emission budget allowed by 2030.
Helen Harwatt from Harvard Law School in the US proposes a three-step strategy to gradually replace animal proteins with plant-sourced proteins, as part of the commitment to mitigate climate change.
The first step is to acknowledge that current numbers of livestock are at their peak and will need to decline.
The next step is to set targets to transition away from livestock products starting with foods linked with the highest greenhouse gas emissions such as beef, then cow's milk and pig meat.
Finally, assessing suitable replacement products against a range of criteria including greenhouse gas emission targets, land usage, and public health benefits will also help, Harwatt said.
She noted that recent evidence shows, in comparison with the current food system, switching from animals to plants proteins could potentially feed an additional 350 million people in the US alone.
Previous studies suggested reducing meat and dairy consumption also provides a range of added benefits such as preserving biodiversity and improving human health.
The study also found that the current livestock population in the world is around 28 billion animals and constitutes the highest source of two major greenhouse gases—methane and nitrous oxide.
The production of methane in particular is troublesome, as it has 85 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame, researchers said.
Methane emissions from the livestock sector are projected to rise by 60 per cent by 2030 -- the same time period over which strong and rapid reductions are needed.
"Given the livestock sector's significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions and methane dominance, animal to plant protein shifts make a much-needed contribution to meeting the Paris temperature goals and reducing warming in the short term, while providing a suite of co-benefits," Harwatt said.
"Failure to implement animal to plant protein shifts increases the risk of exceeding temperature goals and requires additional, and unrealistic, greenhouse gas reductions from other sectors," she added.