Consuming Sustainably: Planet-based Diets
What we eat matters
Our global food system is broken. 70 percent of the loss of biological diversity is due to the production of food and animal feed, causing 27 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, 700 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
A WWF report urges for the need to move towards a more sustainable global food supply and demand based on the earth’s carrying capacity. The report “Bending the Curve: The Restorative Power of Planet-based Diets” analyses how different nutritional patterns (status quo, flexitarian, pescitarian, vegetarian, vegan, national dietary guidelines) affect different health and environmental variables worldwide. The planet-based diets concept thus shines a light onto what we eat, and what the consequences of our food consumption patterns are.
What are planet-based diets?
Planet-based diets are “win-win” consumption patterns that are high on human health benefits (including reducing the risk for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease and increasing your life expectancy), and low on environmental impacts (with positive implications for the climate, biodiversity, habitats, water, etc.). They comprise healthy and sustainable ingredients produced within planetary boundaries, and adjustable to the needs of different people, cultures and traditions around the world.
These diets discourage over-consumption of any food, to the extent that over-consumption negatively impacts biodiversity, the environment and human health. In particular, a large body of evidence has shown that reducing over-consumption of animal-source foods, by increasing the relative consumption of plant-based foods, confers both environmental and health benefits (win-win).
Five strategic actions
Five strategic actions, which can be strongly influenced by dietary changes, need to be achieved to bend the curve on the negative impacts of the food system, moving from one which exploits the planet to one that restores it for nature and people. These are:
- Reversing biodiversity loss – rapidly slow down and move toward zero loss of biodiversity from food production while also using agricultural systems to restore biodiversity across the planet.
- Living within the global carbon budget for food – reduce total greenhouse gas emissions from food production to at most 5 Gt CO2-eq, the maximum allowable total global emissions (or carbon budget) from producing our food.
- Feeding humanity on existing cropland – stop expansion of new cropland, or any agricultural land, at the expense of natural habitats, supplying future food demand on the same area of land as today (or ideally less).
- Achieving negative emissions – move agriculture from a carbon source to a carbon sink, including by freeing up existing agricultural lands that can be reforested or restored and rapidly implementing food production practices that increase carbon storage on existing cropland.
- Optimizing crop yields – use all agricultural lands to their maximum potential including optimizing crop yields through better food production practices that more efficiently use water and fertilizers, preserve ecosystem functions and contribute to resilient landscapes.
Bending the curve
According to the report, reducing meat consumption worldwide could reduce global food-related GHG emissions from around 14 billion tons to just under 10 billion tons CO2-eq. In order to avoid further food-related losses of natural resources, the land area currently allocated to food production needs to be used differently: less land for livestock farming and the production of animal feed, and more for direct human consumption (vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits).
A worldwide change to a predominantly plant-based or purely plant-based nutrition could reduce global species loss by up to 46 percent. With reference to individual countries, the report shows that different strategies must be found at country level in order to align health and ecological nutritional criteria. In addition, the report shows that a change in nutritional patterns must be politically promoted and integrated into corresponding national strategies. Further levers are seen by WWF in the consistent reduction of food losses from field to plate and better food production practices that optimize crop yields, preserve ecosystem functions and contribute to resilient landscapes.