Combating climate change may be as simple as changing our diets, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge say in the journal Nature Climate Change that healthier diets and reducing food waste are part of a combination of solutions needed to ensure food security and avoid dangerous climate change.
Otherwise, if current trends continue, food production alone will reach, if not exceed, the global targets for total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
"There are basic laws of biophysics that we cannot evade," lead researcher Bojana Bajzelj said in a university news release.
As populations rise and more people develop tastes for meat-heavy Western diets, soon agriculture will not be able to keep up with growing food demands for a projected 9.6 billion people. As a result, deforestation will increase, and thereby carbon emissions as well as biodiversity loss, and increased livestock production will raise methane levels. This combination of factors will raise greenhouse gas levels by almost 80 percent.
The research team analyzed evidence such as land use, land suitability and agricultural biomass data to create projections for the year 2050.
In each scenario, food waste and yield gaps - that is, the gap between optimal crop yields and actual average crop yields - pose the greatest problems. But researchers note that even if yield gaps somehow miraculously closed and food waste was cut in half, greenhouse gas emissions would still increase by two percent.
"It is imperative to find ways to achieve global food security without expanding crop or pastureland. Food production is a main driver of biodiversity loss and a large contributor to climate change and pollution, so our food choices matter," said Bajzelj.
However, adding healthier diets into the scenario, the model suggests that all three changes combined result in cutting greenhouse gas emissions almost by half from their 2009 level - dropping 48 percent.
"This is not a radical vegetarian argument; it is an argument about eating meat in sensible amounts as part of healthy, balanced diets," added+ co-author Keith Richards.
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