Press release 2016-05-02

Large climate benefits from eating less meat – but still difficult to achieve the emissions target

Reducing meat consumption has a large climate benefit – much larger than just switching from beef and pork to chicken, according to a model developed by researchers at IVL. The model is used for calculating the impact that different policy instruments may have on the European food consumption. The study also clearly shows that food consumption is a big challenge if we are to achieve the emission target of two tonnes of carbon dioxide per person and year.

To reach the 2-degree target, we need to reduce emissions per person and year from the current nine tonnes of carbon dioxide to around two tonnes. Food consumption alone is emitting between two and three tonnes of carbon per person per year.

– Food is an important part of people's lives and to bring about change, we need to change behaviour and add measures along the entire value chain – all the way from producer to consumer. As the EU population is also increasing it becomes an even bigger challenge to reduce emissions, says Michael Martin at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

He and other researchers from IVL have in the EU project Dynamix been studying how policy instruments can lead to changes in food consumption and waste. The researchers have developed a model and by using life cycle analysis been able to calculate the environmental impact of a number of scenarios for the year 2030 and 2050.

The study looked at, among other things, a scenario where the consumption of meat and dairy products would decrease significantly – from today's consumption where 51 percent of the daily protein intake is animal-based protein, to 35 percent in 2030 and then to 25 percent in 2050. In the latter scenario emissions were reduced by more than 40 percent in 2050. The researchers also looked at a scenario where beef and pork were replaced with chicken, which gave an emission reduction of 20 percent by 2050.

The study also shows that it is possible in Europe to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing landfill and incineration and instead produce more biogas from food waste.

– The scenario that showed the greatest impact on emissions was the one where we reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products. If we significantly reduce the meat consumption we can reduce emissions, but our food will still produce about 1.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. That leaves only 0.2 tons for all other emissions each person produce, which is not realistic, says Michael Martin.

– The conclusion is that it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example by setting up policies to reduce animal protein intake. But if we are to achieve the emissions target this will not be enough. We will have to combine it with other policy instruments in order to effectively reduce food waste, improving agricultural practices, and to steer towards a more sustainable food production, says Michael Martin.

Results from the Dynamix study have been published in the scientific journal Sustainability. Läs artikeln här.

For more information, please contact:
Michael Martin, michael.martin@ivl.se, tel. +46(0)10-788 66 81

Dynamix (Dynamic policy Mixes for Absolute Decoupling of Environmental Impact of EU Resource Use from Economic Growth) is a major European research project that aims to create dynamic policy instrument mixes within the EU in support of the decoupling of resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth. The primary target groups for Dynamix are EU and national-level policy-makers directly involved in designing and implementing resource use policies. The Dynamix project is carried out by a consortium led by the Ecologic Institute in Germany, with the participation of IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and research institutes from six other European countries.