Unbalanced diets in G20 countries make 75% of global food carbon budget: Report

Food consumption patterns aligning with current national dietary guidelines can reduce total greenhouse gas emissions for G20 countries

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 20 July 2020
Greenhouse gas reductions can primarily be achieved through less red meat consumption. Photo: Wallpaper Flare

Approximately 3.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents — nearly 75 per cent of the total global carbon budget for food — is emitted through unbalanced food consumption in the ‘Group of 20’ (G20) countries, claimed a recent report.

Consumption patterns — especially in countries like the United States — exceeded the greenhouse gas (GHG) budget, said the report released July 15, 2020 by EAT Forum, a Norway-based think-tank.

The EAT-Lancet Commission showed approximately 11 million lives can be saved every year by adopting the planetary health diet — a global reference diet for adults consisting of whole grains, plant proteins and modest amounts of meat and dairy.

Current National Dietary Guidelines (NDG) in G20 countries are not ambitious enough to meet climate goals.

They will help countries make progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 3.4 of reducing premature mortality by 2030.

Additional SDGs, however, can be achieved if more ambitious dietary patterns such as the planetary health diet were adopted, said the report.

Food consumption patterns that align with current NDGs will reduce total GHG emissions for most G20 countries.

GHG emissions will be cut by approximately 19 per cent, while adopting the planetary health diet will reduce food-related emissions in G20 countries by nearly 46 per cent if NDGs are universally followed, according to the report.

These reductions can primarily be achieved through less red meat and dairy consumption.

Shifting dietary guidelines

Most food consumption patterns in G20 countries are not aligned with healthy flexitarian diets and most NDGs will not ensure global warming remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius, said the report.

NDGs are a necessary component of food policy and an essential first step to promoting healthy eating habits in a country. China and Indonesia’s current consumption patterns are aligned with the model necessary to protect health and the planet, the report said.

“We must reimagine and reboot the food system. The G20 has the power to profoundly re-shape every aspect of global food production and consumption,” said Brent Loken, the report’s lead author.

“If we are serious about feeding healthy food to every person on the planet, the G20 must lead,” said Loken, who is also the global food lead scientist for the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Consumption patterns and dietary recommendations in G20 countries like the US are not ambitious enough to bring food systems within planetary boundaries, the report said.

The US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released its scientific report July 15, which is to be used to inform an update to the country’s dietary guidelines.

This report briefly mentions sustainability as an issue for future consideration but fails to emphasise the need for climate-friendly diets.

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