Find out why a predominantly plant-based diet can make a substantial difference in safeguarding our planet.

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent with floods, forest dieback, and heatwaves becoming more frequent, the urgency to protect our planet has never been more crucial. What most people may not realize is that our diet plays a significant role in contributing to climate change. Surprisingly, about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the food we consume. However, the good news is that a climate-friendly diet, predominantly plant-based, can make a substantial difference in safeguarding the planet.

The climate crisis and its real-life consequences 

Our planet is not only our home but also the source of our sustenance. The climate crisis poses a massive threat to global food security, species diversity, and the availability of drinking water. This jeopardizes the liveability of our world for both present and future generations. Despite the ongoing efforts for global climate protection, the measures in place have fallen short of achieving the desired climate targets.

The reality of the climate crisis today

Without ambitious and decisive action against climate change, we are likely to witness global warming of 1.5 °C by the 1930s. This limit marks a tipping point beyond which the consequences of climate change will become even more severe. Extreme weather events, such as floods and heatwaves, the loss of vital coral reefs, and the melting of polar ice caps, are just some of the consequences already being observed. While reducing fossil fuel consumption remains a critical step, we often overlook the impact our dietary choices have on climate change.

The carbon footprint of our diet

The process of producing, processing, cooling, and transporting our food results in numerous greenhouse gas emissions. With multiple meals consumed daily and lengthy supply chains involved, the global food system accounts for up to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions – approximately 18 billion tons annually. This staggering figure equates to about four to five times the greenhouse gases produced by the entire European Union in one year. Thus, our dietary habits represent a fundamental parameter in climate protection, and without altering our eating patterns, achieving the Paris climate agreement’s 1.5-degree target will remain unattainable.

The impact of meat and dairy production

Over half of the emissions attributed to our food choices come from animal-based food production. Meat and dairy products, in particular, have the most significant impact on the climate. These emissions arise from various sources, including direct emissions during the digestion of animals and the application of animal fertilizers like liquid manure and manure. Additionally, indirect emissions occur due to the cultivation of animal feed, further contributing to the climate crisis. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock farming is responsible for at least 14.5% of global emissions, and recent studies suggest this figure may be closer to 20%.

The methane factor

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is nearly 30 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide (CO2). Approximately 30% of global warming is attributed to methane emissions, with livestock farming being a major source. Ruminants like cattle produce methane through their digestive processes, making meat and milk products particularly carbon-intensive. Methane is also released during the storage and spreading of liquid manure. Unlike CO2, methane has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere, dissipating in approximately 12 years. Reducing animal numbers rapidly can significantly mitigate the emission of methane and other climate-damaging gases.

Embracing a plant-based diet

Leading experts agree that a shift towards a predominantly plant-based diet can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to our food choices. Simple substitutions, like replacing ground beef with soy granules in lasagna, can reduce the carbon footprint by more than half. Legumes such as lentils, peas, and beans offer valuable sources of protein, while fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. With countless plant-based recipes available, adopting a climate-friendly diet has never been more accessible and delicious.

The power of individual choices

At the individual level, transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet can reduce personal diet-related emissions by up to 50%. If everyone were to embrace a purely plant-based diet, global diet-related emissions could decrease by up to 70% by 2050, compared to continuing current dietary patterns. A swift reduction in animal husbandry would have a profound impact on greenhouse gas emissions, potentially saving half the emissions required to achieve the Paris climate goals.

The path to mitigating climate change and safeguarding our planet lies, in part, in the choices we make regarding our diets. By embracing a plant-based lifestyle, we can significantly contribute to climate protection, preserving the Earth for generations to come.