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Healthy dietary shifts could keep global climate goals within reach – Earth.com

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A recent study led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) has found that healthy dietary shifts could play a significant role in supporting the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

According to co-lead author Florian Humpenöder, a senior scientist at PIK, transitioning towards a more sustainable diet could substantially increase the feasibility of meeting the climate goals set by the Paris Agreement. 

Greenhouse gas emissions and dietary shifts

“The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions related to dietary shifts, especially methane from ruminant animals raised for their meat and milk, would allow us to extend our current global CO2 budget of 500 gigatons by 125 gigatons and still stay within the limits of 1.5°C with a 50 percent chance,” he explained.

The study underscores the importance of implementing policies that put a price on greenhouse gas emissions across the energy and land systems as a crucial measure to limit global warming to 1.5°C. 

Sustainable diets reduce greenhouse gas emissions

“Our results show that compared to continued dietary trends, a more sustainable diet not only reduces impacts from food production within the land system, such as deforestation and nitrogen losses. It also reduces GHG emissions from the land system to such an extent that it cuts economy-wide 1.5°C-compatible GHG prices in 2050 by 43 percent,” said study co-lead author Alexander Popp, leader of the working group land-use management at PIK. 

“Moreover, healthy diets would also reduce our dependence on carbon dioxide removal in 2050 by 39 percent.”

The study represents a pioneering effort to isolate the contribution of dietary changes alone to achieving the 1.5°C target, an area previously unexplored in existing research. 

Dietary shifts and climate goals

By incorporating dietary shifts towards the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet into their models, the scientists highlight the potential of a flexitarian diet, which emphasizes a variety of plant-based foods, reduced consumption of livestock products, and limited intake of added sugars, to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable and healthy global diet.

However, there are considerable challenges that lie ahead in implementing these dietary changes. 

Concerted efforts are needed

Effective decision-making in food policy is often complicated by the dispersion of responsibilities across various institutions, making it difficult to enforce coherent policies that promote healthy diets. Furthermore, ensuring social inclusion and providing adequate compensation are crucial for a just transition.

“The results indicate that a shift in our diets could make a considerable difference if we do not want to crash through the 1.5°C limit in the next 10 to 15 years. This calls for globally concerted efforts to support the transition towards sustainable healthy diets,” concluded co-author Johan Rockström, the director of PIK.

Shifting to a more sustainable diet 

Shifting to a sustainable diet involves making food choices that are not only healthier for you but also have a lower environmental impact

A sustainable diet typically emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds, because producing these foods generally requires less water, land, and energy compared to animal-based products. 

It also means opting for locally sourced and seasonal produce whenever possible to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation and storage.

Incorporating more plant-based meals

Incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but rather that you’re consciously reducing the amount of animal products you consume. 

This can be as simple as participating in “meatless Mondays” or choosing plant-based alternatives for some of your favorite dishes.

Choosing organic foods

Choosing organic foods when possible is another aspect of a sustainable diet. Organic farming practices are designed to reduce pollution and conserve water and soil quality, although it’s worth noting that the environmental benefits can vary based on the food and the location where it’s grown.

Reducing food waste 

Reducing food waste is also a crucial part of a climate-friendly dietary shift. Planning meals, buying only what you need, using leftovers creatively, and composting food scraps can significantly lessen your environmental footprint.

By making these dietary shifts, you’re not only contributing to a more sustainable and equitable food system but also adopting habits that are better for your health. Transitioning to a sustainable diet can be a gradual process of making more conscious food choices that reflect both personal health goals and the well-being of the planet.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

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