A new study suggests that shifting to a plant-based diet may not only benefit the climate by reducing emissions but may even help capture more carbon.
Agriculture has long been known to be one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG), as far as human activities go.
In fact, in the US alone, agriculture has been found responsible for 10% of the country’s total GHG emissions in 2019.
The primary sources include methane emissions from cattle and other livestock, as well as nitrous oxide emissions being released from soil as a result of certain farming practices.
As a potential solution for this problem, an international team of researchers decided to try and see what would happen if 54 of the world’s wealthier nations switched their animal-based diet to a plant-based diet known as the EAT-Lancet “planetary health diet.”
The “planetary health diet” is relatively simple to follow with the main rule being “”half a plate of fruits, vegetables and nuts”, and is thought to be beneficial both for individual health, as well as for the environment.
Higher income regions were targeted for the purposes of this study due to higher levels of plant-based alternatives to animal proteins being available.
In contrast, lower-income countries tend to have fewer animal proteins in their food intake, but they do rely on them for their health.
The result: double climate dividend
As a result of their research, the scientists found that switching to a plant-based diet would slash the country’s agricultural carbon emissions by 61%.
And if following the switch the land were to be restored to its natural state, the switch to a plant-based diet would, in fact, result in the removal of 98.3 billion metric tons of carbon from the air by 2100.
Hence, the shift will not only help reduce CO2 emissions from agriculture, on one hand.
On the other, allowing the land to return back to its natural state will increase its ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere and, thus, remove already existing emissions.
And that is only part of the benefits such a switch could have, the researchers shared. According to them, it would also have positive effects on biodiversity, air pollution and water quality, among other areas of life on the planet.
The full study can be found in Nature Food.