The study highlights places where changing what people grow and eat could free up space for ecosystems to regrow, offsetting our CO2 emissions in the process.
Plant protein foods—like lentils, beans, and nuts—can provide vital nutrients using a small fraction of the land required to produce meat and dairy. By shifting to these foods, much of the remaining land could support ecosystems that absorb CO2, according to a new study appearing in the journal Nature Sustainability.
In their study, the researchers analyzed and mapped areas where extensive production of animal-sourced food, which requires 83 percent of Earth’s agricultural land, suppresses native vegetation, including forests. The study highlights places where changing what people grow and eat could free up space for ecosystems to regrow, offsetting our CO2 emissions in the process.
“The greatest potential for forest regrowth, and the climate benefits it entails, exists in high- and upper-middle income countries, places where scaling back on land-hungry meat and dairy would have relatively minor impacts on food security,” says Matthew Hayek, the principal author of the study and an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Environmental Studies.
Burning fossil fuels for energy emits CO2, warming the planet. When warming reaches 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial levels, more severe impacts like droughts and sea level rise are expected. Scientists describe how much fossil fuel we can burn before hitting that limit using the global “carbon budget.”
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