Reduction targets needed to hit climate targets
Moving towards more sustainable food systems is a vital requirement in the face of the climate crisis. On a global scale, our food system accounts for about a third of emissions. The production and consumption of animal-based products are among the main sources of emissions from the food system and account for about 20% of global emissions. On the EU level, 30% of greenhouse gases are attributable to the food system,  and an estimated 17% just to livestock production.  At the same time, moving towards more plant-rich diets has the potential to decrease your food-related carbon footprint by 50%
The reduction facts that need to be acknowledged on a European level:
- The consumption of meat needs to be reduced by 79%.
- The consumption of milk and dairy needs to be reduced by between 74 and 83%.
- The consumption of eggs needs to be reduced by 68%.
- The consumption of fish and seafood needs to be reduced by 65%.
|Reduction of animal products under Eat Lancet’s recommendations and according to a ‘50by40’ diet.|
|EU 2016 consumption|
[kg per capita/year]
|Eat Lancet recommendations [kg per capita/year]||‘50by40’ diet [kg per capita/year]|
|Meat*||69||15.7 (-77%)||14.6 (-79%)|
|Milk & dairy**||110 – 167||91.2 (-17 to -45%)||28.3 (-74% to -83%)|
|Eggs***||12||4.7 (-61%)||3.8 (-68%)|
|Fish & seafood***||17||10.2 (-41%)||6.0 (-65%)|
** Data on current milk consumption has a large variation, depending on the source. According to the ‘EU Agricultural Outlook 2020’, the consumption of milk and dairy (including milk powders and whey) was at 110 kg/capita. According to FAO Data, corrected for waste on the consumer level, milk consumption is at 166 kg/capita
*** data on current egg consumption was obtained from FAOSTAT Food Balances data and is nearly the same as in the ‘EU Agricultural Outlook 2020”. Data on fish has been obtained from the FAOSTAT Food Balance
Reducing animal consumption by 50% by the year 2040
The Eat Lancet recommendations, as well as the mission of several NGOs, to limit global animal consumption and production by 50% by the year 2040 (‘50by40’), indicate the levels of reduction needed to achieve a first step towards more sustainable food systems. Both approaches require a substantial reduction in per-capita meat consumption as well as dairy, eggs, and seafood. While the Eat Lancet recommendations are based on per-capita consumption, ‘50by40’ is based on total global supply of animal-based products. ‘50by40’ suggests more ambitious reductions, especially in emissions-intensive foods such as milk and dairy products, as they are responsible for a large share of global agricultural emissions.
Moving towards diets that are more plant-rich has the largest mitigation potential, and the largest potential to reduce food-system-generated greenhouse gas emissions. In combination with reduced waste, healthy calories, and best-farm practices, it would even be possible to achieve negative emissions. In its 2019 Special Report on Climate Change and Land Use, the IPCC summarised the mitigation potentials of different diets – with a fully plant based diet reducing emissions by up to 8 Gt of CO2-eq globally per year by 2050.
In 2014, Westhoek et al. calculated that halving Europe’s meat and dairy intake would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the food system by up to 40%, it would also reduce the need for feed crops grown on arable land by 90%, making this land available to grow crops for direct human consumption.
Moving towards plant-rich diets will reduce emissions, free up valuable land that is currently used for livestock farming and feed production, could avoid millions of premature deaths from non-communicable diseases and the associated costs for health systems, and might even create millions of more job opportunities, as shown by the International Labour Organization for Latin America and the Caribbean.
How 50by40 is calculated
ProVeg’s mission is a global reduction in the total consumption and production of animal-based products by the year 2040, compared to the reference year of 2016. Different from the EAT recommendations, this scenario reduces all animal-based products equally by 50%. As it is a reduction in total consumption, the basis is not per-capita consumption but global food supply, in tonnes. The reduction leads to a certain amount of animal products available globally that will need to be distributed to an estimated population of 9.2 billion in 2040. Data on global food supply for the year 2016 was obtained from the Food Balances from FAOSTAT. Population estimates are from the United Nations Population Division.
|Global food supply of animal-based products in 2016 and food supply|
of animal-based products under a 50by40 scenario.
|item||2016 food supply (in million tonnes)||2040 food supply |
(in million tonnes)
|2040 per-capita |
|2040 per-capita food supply, corrected for waste*|
|Meat||302.5||151||16.5 kg (45g/d)||14.6 kg (38g/d)|
|Milk & dairy||560.0||280||30.4 kg (83g/d)||28.3 kg (77g/d)|
|Eggs||69.0||35||3.8 kg (10g/d)||3.8 kg (10g/d)|
|Fish & seafood||124.0||62||7.6 kg (18g/d)||6.0 kg (15g/d)|
Meat includes: the FAO items “Bovine Meat”, “Pigmeat”, “Mutton & Goat Meat”, and “Poultry Meat”. FAO data on food supply is not what is actually eaten per person but dressed-carcass weight, thus still including bones. To correct for this, we used consumption-level data from the FAO Report on Global Food Losses and Food Waste (2011). While a correction of FAO for waste on an EU level yields results close to the figures in the EU Agricultural Outlook 2020, results from other countries might vary from official country statistics. Figures from the FAO Report on waste and losses might also differ from values used to calculate the retail weight for different species, where losses might be higher than 11%.
Milk/Dairy is based on the FAO item “Milk – excluding Butter”. It includes the milk of all animal species and products derived from milk, such as yoghurt and cheese.
Eggs includes the eggs of all animals used for egg production. As no figure on waste and losses was given, it was not corrected. However the value by FAO for current consumption/food supply was very close to figures from the ‘EU Agricultural Outlook 2020’.
Fish & Seafood includes fish as well as crustaceans and cephalopods. The figure was corrected for consumer waste with data from the FAO Report on Global Food Losses and Food Waste.
The IPCC report
The new IPCC Report, published in 2021, shows that we need to take urgent action in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C and to stay well below 2°C. The carbon budget left, to stay within 1.5°C, is between 500-705 Gt of CO2-eq. Considering that our current food system is responsible for up to 18 Gt of CO2-eq annually, it would only take 28 years for our food system alone to surpass the remaining carbon budget left. By 2040, the current food system alone would have used up 51-72% of the remaining carbon budget.
In order to achieve the goals set in the Paris Agreement, we need to rapidly transform the food system, since emissions from the food system alone could preclude achieving the 1.5°C and 2°C goals. Moving towards a plant-based diet is among the most effective interventions. It is therefore only possible to achieve the EU’s GHG reduction goals of at least 55% by 2030 and net-zero by 2050 by implementing a significant transformation of the food system. Furthermore, a recent report by the FAO, UNEP, and the UNDP revealed that most agricultural funding not only distorts prices, but also harms the environment and human health. Emission-intensive commodities such as beef and milk receive the most support. Subsidies would need to be repurposed in order to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
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|↑2||Xu, X., P. Sharma, S. Shu, et al. (2021): Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods. Nature Food 2(9), 724–732. doi:10.1038/s43016-021-00358-x|
|↑3||Crippa, M., E. Solazzo, D. Guizzardi, et al. (2021): Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nature Food. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00225-9|
|↑4||European Commission (2021): EDGAR-FOOD: the first global food emission inventory. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/science-update/edgar-food [29.09.2021]|
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|↑8||IPCC (2019): Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.|
|↑9||Westhoek, H., J. P. Lesschen, T. Rood, et al. (2014): Food choices, health and environment: Effects of cutting Europe’s meat and dairy intake. Global Environmental Change 26 196–205. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.02.004|
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|↑19||FAO, UNDP and UNEP. (2021): A multi-billion-dollar opportunity – Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems. Rome, FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb6562en|