Meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C will be impossible without changes to the food system, researchers say. They suggest that animal protein production needs to start declining by 2030, while new proteins should account for more than 50% of protein production in most countries by 2060. This is especially important in Asia, which has a large share of protein. Yet with rising incomes, world population and meat consumption are currently increasing.
The report calculated projected emissions from protein production under a business-as-usual scenario for ten major economies in Asia — China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. The study found that even with ambitious emission reduction scenarios, none were able to keep protein-related emissions within target ranges. This poses risks of food insecurity and climate crisis.
While emissions in some countries will be held back slightly by declining populations, others – notably India and Pakistan – are still experiencing rapid population growth and rising meat consumption. These countries need at least 85% of their protein to come from new proteins from non-animal sources by 2060.
The report argues that transformational goals are achievable with the help of targeted investments and supportive policies. For example, if China invests US$730 billion in the new protein industry between 2020 and 2060, it will be possible to build sufficient production capacity to transition to new proteins.
Despite the large sums involved, the researchers point out that, in addition to reducing emissions, the transition would have enormous environmental and social benefits. These include reducing the use of land, water and antibiotics, reducing pollution, reducing deforestation and biodiversity loss, and reducing the risk of disease – including those transmitted by livestock and those caused by overconsumption of animal products.
Some Asian countries have recognized the need for change; last year, Singapore’s state investment agency Temasek said plant-based protein was an important way to improve food security. Additionally, a recent report by Food Frontier found that five Asian countries—China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand—have huge new protein market opportunities.