Our current food and agriculture systems account for around one-third of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. They are not only significant contributing factors to climate change, but also have significant negative impacts on the planetary systems that support life. Our report “Food Production and Consumption in a 1.5-degree World – Options for Germany” illustrates the magnitude of the food system change necessary to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees. The report is a case study for Germany, and it explores potential solutions to reduce the climate impact of our diets.
The report sets a per capita carbon budget for a German diet that is in line with the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement (775 kgCO2-eq/year in 2030 and 360 kgCO2-eq/year in 2050). It paints the picture of a German diet that healthy and nutritious but does not exceed the dedicated and equitable carbon budget.
Currently, the average German diet causes GHG emissions of 2300 kgCO2eq per person per year, the amount equivalent to driving a petrol car for 6500 km. The current carbon footprint is far from the 1.5-degree target and will need to be reduced by over 66% by 2030 and 84% by 2050 in order to achieve this.
Our report confirms that in order to achieve these significant GHG reductions in the food system by 2030, action will be needed throughout the food system. It is not enough to simply make changes in the supply line or in consumer demand, we have to take action on both fronts, from agriculture to consumption. For Germany, 40% of the needed reductions can be achieved by supply-side actions, changing agricultural production practices and the following supply chains. More than half of the needed GHG reductions can only be addressed by consumer actions, particularly changes in diet. In Germany, required dietary changes include the reduction of meat consumption (by 58% compared to current levels), dairy products (26%), and beverages (30%). These products would be substituted by vegetables, fruits, whole grains and plant-based proteins.
Plant-based diets require less land than the current average German diet, thus offering the potential for reforestation and rewilding of agricultural areas. Our report estimates that 17% of the current agricultural area could be repurposed once diets have shifted to be in line with the 1.5-degree target.
Although diverse action is needed to fully transform food systems in Germany, we should focus on actions that have the greatest impact. Shifting to more plant-based diets is at the top of the list. Other countries are also already taking steps to address the needed dietary change. Denmark published a roadmap to make its food system more plant based. The Swiss Federal Office of Agriculture published a report that outlines the benefits of reducing meat consumption in the country, and the newest Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, recommends a predominantly plant-based diet. In Germany, the forthcoming nutritional strategy aims to incorporate environmental factors beyond nutrition for the first time by promoting a healthier and more plant-based diet.