Plant based diet A predominantly plant-based diet is essential if we are to save the planet, says new research - Media Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission

Public Must Switch To ‘Predominantly Plant-Based Diet’ To Save Planet, Says New Research

There are many ways to reduce food system emissions but the most important is for individuals to shift towards predominantly plant-based diets


2 Minutes Read

We must switch to a predominantly plant-based diet to save the planet, says new research from an international team led by the University of Oxford.

The journal Science published the paper. It reveals that slashing our use of fossil fuel use is essential to meet global climate targets. But is not enough unless we also transform the global food system.

Global diet

In fact, scientists say, even if fossil fuel emissions stop immediately, emissions from the global food system alone could increase global temperatures by more than 1.5°C.

The Paris Climate Agreement goal is to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Global temperature increases beyond this will lead to extreme heatwaves, flooding, water scarcity, and more.

We must change ‘what we eat, how much we eat and how much is wasted by 2050. In addition, we must change how food is produced.

Veggie burger
Plant-based food is better for the planet

30-45 years

It adds if we continue with current trends, ’emissions from food systems would surpass the 1.5°C target within 30-45 years. In fact, they ‘may exceed the 2°C target within 90 years, even if all other sources of greenhouse gas emissions immediately stopped’. 

If other sources of greenhouse gas emissions reached zero by 2050, we would surpass the 1.5°C target in 10-20 years and, in addition, the 2°C target by the end of the century.

“The research makes clear that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food systems will require coordinated action. Across sectors and between national governments. 

“However, the changes would have additional benefits. For example, reducing water pollution and scarcity. Also increasing biodiversity, and reducing the rate of diet-related health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”

‘Predominantly plant-based’

Dr. Michael Clark is from The Oxford Martin School and Nuffield Department of Population Health. In a statement sent to PBN, he said: “Discussions on mitigating climate change typically focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, for instance, from transportation or energy production. 

“However, our research emphasizes the importance of reducing emissions from the global food system.”

He added that there are ‘are many achievable ways rapidly to reduce food emissions’ if we act on them quickly. These include ‘raising crop yields and reducing food loss and waste’.

But, he concluded: “The most important is for individuals to shift towards predominantly plant-based diets.”

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The Author

Maria Chiorando

Maria is the former editor for Plant Based News. She has been a newspaper reporter and features writer. Her work has been published by The Guardian and The Huffington Post, among others

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Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago

The emphasis should be on “predominantly” not on “exclusively” plant based diet. Raising crop yields using current methods will dramatically increase greenhouse gases, population reduction is the better long term solution.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

So you’re basically implying that convincing people to stop having children is easier than convincing them to stop consuming animal based products. Do I need to point out how ridiculous that is?

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Alien

You’re probably right, it is ridiculous, however if you want to save the planet, as the title of the article suggests, IT’S ESSENTIAL. It’s the one issue that policy makers avoid, largely because its the most difficult to tackle and it conflicts with their desire for economic growth. As David Attenborough has said “humans have overrun the earth” and in the words of James Lovelock “ we need to retreat, we need to decarbonise, deindustrialise and depopulate”. People can fool themselves that all you need to do is buy an electric car, build a windmill and eat less meat ( of which I am in favour) and all will be well, but along with the fact that there are only 60 harvests left on the worlds major arable lands, we are running out of resources. Since the introduction of agriculture 10,000 yrs ago humans have sought to match the resources to the size of the population, now is the time to match the population to the available resources.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Rowland, you seem to miss this point: If the world went plant based it would reduce the amount of crops we would need to grow. One third of all arable land is used to grow animal feed. Only 10% of the calories produced from that translates into calories in meat. So if humans switched to a predominantly plant based diet we could produce the same amount of calories on 3.3% of the earth’s arable land. We could free up 29.7% of the earth’s arable land to grow plants for humans if necessary. Or simply use that land to rewild the earth.

In this scenario you get to keep your grass-fed beef. But meat eaters would have to accept that they will eat much less meat than they currently do. But, if the world went fully plant based we could easily produce enough calories to feed a growing population: On less land.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt

Matt, half the time we’re singing off the same hymn sheet, the only difference being you see it from a vegan perspective and I don’t. As I’ve said before I’m a biocentrist, if it damages the biosphere I appose it, if it doesn’t I support it, I leave personal opinions, feelings and morality out of it. All modern industrial agriculture is damaging to the environment and the biosphere, and we are all guilty, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and meat eaters. So what are the options?
(1 Dismantle the current meat industry, put the animals back on the land so they can feed themselves ( animals convert foods we can’t eat into foods we can ). That would remove about 80%+ of animal foods from the food chain, ( my estimate ) if that means that some people can’t have steak every day then “tough” they will have to find something else to eat.
(2 Replace chemically supported monoculture with mixed farms. Modern arable Ag is a disaster often pressing unsuitable soils into plant production and depleting better soils through continuous usage of chemical fertiliser, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. We’ve only 60 harvests left before we end up with mass desertification ( in some parts of the world it’s happened already ). Given recent findings on nitrous oxide from chemical fertilisers we need to rethink the idea that eating plants is some sort of benign alternative to meat or totally reorganise the way we manage agriculture.
(3 The above is a gross simplification of a horrendously complex subject. Wether we could feed a population of 7 billion + and rising, I have my personal doubts, many prominent agronomists believe we can feed the world from smaller noncommercial units, if not it’s back to Jim Lovelock, “we need to RETREAT, we need to decarbonise, deindustrialise, and depopulate.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Rowland I too am a biocentrist, I’m also a deep ecologist, and pantheist. I have seen that the way we best heal the planet is by the usage of a vegan ideology. I’m sure that you understand that the vast majority of mammalian biomass on the planet consists of livestock. And I’m sure that you know that the level of meat consumption is not sustainable. How do we fix this? If we use morality and ideology to push the population towards plant based diets much of the world’s dirty agriculture goes away on its own. Poor farmers stop burning rainforests to graze beef or grow soy to feed pigs. Then the forests begin to regenerate on their own. I get that bovines can use land to produce calories that would otherwise not exist in the human food chain. Here is the thing: We are not lacking for calories on this planet. We don’t need to use every square foot of land to generate calories and therefore profit. Some spaces should be left wild. We should reintroduce natural grazers and predators into such spaces and try to rewild as much agricultural land as possible. Veganism and plant-based eating is a path to this.

With our remaining land we should return to more labor intensive farming. Permaculture food forests, crop rotation, no till farming to build the soil. Thousands of years of overgrazing has decimated the soil and lead to increased desertification. Veganic agriculture can help here.

Take away public lands from grazers then the cost of meat goes up. End the subsidies for fodder crops and the cost of meat goes up. Then we put a C02e tax on meat production. Pretty soon the cost of meat will start to reflect it’s actual cost when externalized costs are included on the sticker price. No more $1.50 cheeseburgers. Maybe this will give some people the push they need to change.

I agree that we should limit the population. This is key to our long term survival. But the way to retrofit our current population is by adoption of a plant based diet worldwide. That will buy us enough time to maybe survive this.