Global climate and biodiversity benefits of switching to plant-based diet

September 12, 2023 | Nature Communications 

Introduction: The promotion of plant-based alternatives to animal products is gaining traction for creating more sustainable diets. Using a global economic land use model, research team from International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria assesses the system-wide impacts of a worldwide dietary shift toward these alternatives. 

 Key findings: The research team has found substantial reduction in global environmental impacts by 2050 if 50% of major animal products—pork, chicken, beef, and milk—are substituted. This shift results in a nearly complete halt in the net reduction of forest and natural land, accompanied by a 31% decline in agriculture and land use greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2020. Furthermore, if agricultural land within forest ecosystems is restored to forests, climate benefits could double, reaching 92% of the estimated land sector mitigation potential. The restored areas may contribute significantly to global land restoration goals by 2030 and reduce future declines in ecosystem integrity by more than half by 2050. Regional impacts vary, with notable effects on agricultural input use in China and environmental outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America. While beef replacement yields the most significant impacts, substituting multiple products demonstrates synergistic benefits.

 Read more: Feeding climate and biodiversity goals with novel plant-based meat and milk alternatives

Fig. | Scenario dimensions of plant-based market development.