Food Matters

This PIK press release arrives at the very moment I hear a commentator on France Culture’s noon news broadcast explain that the quantity of food waste on our planet is, or rather would, be enough to feed every hungry human on this planet.

Press release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)


Food matters: Healthy diets increase the economic and physical feasibility of 1.5°C 

A global shift to a healthier, more sustainable diet could be a huge lever to limit global warming to 1.5°C, researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) find. The resulting reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would increase the available carbon budget compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and allow to achieve the same climate outcome with less carbon dioxide removal and less stringent CO2 emissions reductions in the energy system. This would also reduce emission prices, energy prices and food expenditures.

“We find that a more sustainable, flexitarian diet increases the feasibility of the Paris Agreement climate goals in different ways,” says Florian Humpenöder, PIK scientist and co-lead author of the study published in Science Advances. “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 adds.

Putting a price on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the energy and land system is an important policy instrument to stay within the limits of 1.5°C warming. “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,” explains co-lead author Alexander Popp, leader of the working group land-use management at PIK. “Moreover, healthy diets would also reduce our dependency on carbon dioxide removal in 2050 by 39 percent,” he adds.

Flexitarian diet could make a marked difference for the feasibility of the 1.5°C target

Up to now, existing literature did not allow to single-out the contribution of dietary shifts alone for the feasibility of the 1.5°C limit. In the new study, PIK scientists investigated how dietary shifts would contribute towards the feasibility of 1.5°C transformation pathways relative to a scenario without dietary shifts. The researchers used the open-source Integrated Assessment Modelling framework REMIND-MAgPIE to simulate 1.5°C pathways, one including dietary shifts towards the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet by 2050 in all world regions. “The EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet is a flexitarian diet predominantly featuring a wide variety of plant-based foods, a marked reduction of livestock products especially in high- and middle-income regions, and restricted intake of added sugars, among other things,” says co-author Isabelle Weindl from PIK.

However, considerable challenges are yet to be addressed: Decision-making in food policy is often dispersed across different institutions and ministries, which hinders the implementation of coherent policies in support of healthy diets. Moreover, social inclusion and compensation schemes are central for a just transition to healthy diets, the authors state.

„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,” concludes Johan Rockström, PIK director and co-author of the study.

Weblink to the study:

Florian Humpenöder, Alexander Popp, Leon Merfort, Gunnar Luderer, Isabelle Weindl, Benjamin Bodirsky, Miodrag Stevanović, David Klein, Renato Rodrigues, Nico Bauer, Jan Philipp Dietrich, Hermann Lotze-Campen, Johan Rockström (2024): Food matters: Dietary shifts increase the feasibility of 1.5°C pathways in line with the Paris Agreement. Science Advances. [DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adj3832]

For further information please contact:
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Who we are: The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) is one of the leading research institutions addressing relevant questions in the fields of global change, climate impacts and sustainable development. Natural and social scientists work closely together to generate interdisciplinary insights that provide a sound basis for decision-making for society, businesses and politics. PIK is a member of the Leibniz Association.

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