Are Plant-Based Protein Sustainable Solutions for Emissions Reduction?

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Are Plant-Based Protein Sustainable Solutions for Emissions Reduction?

Cattle and farm animals release methane, a gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere (Importance of Methane, 2021). Cutting methane emissions is seen as an opportunity to curb global warming.

According to the IPCC’s special report, “Climate Change and Land,” the food systems release about 21–37% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) from agriculture and land use, storage, transport, packaging, processing, retail, and consumption. Crop and livestock activities account for 9–14% of total emissions.

Reducing emissions from crop and livestock activities is a serious concern yet also offers an opportunity to tackle climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report identifies plant-based and cultured meat as a transformative solution to halving emissions by 2030.

Chapter 5 of the report discusses the potential of demand-side strategies across all sectors to reduce emissions between 40 to 70% by 2050. Switching to plant-based diets offers considerable potential to mitigate climate change.

The Economist article, “Plant-based proteins are no longer a side dish in diets,” tells how the plant-based alternative to cows’ milk and beef is growing into a multi-billion business, and investors are pouring money into it.

According to the article, America sold US$2.6bn of plant-based milk in 2021, up from US$2bn in 2018. It reveals some impressive investment figures in the plant-based protein business. Read more of what the article mentioned:

  • BCG, a consultancy, expects revenues from alternative proteins to reach $290bn by 2035.
  • “Alternative-protein companies lapped up $5bn in investments in 2021, 60% more than in 2020.”
  • “Impossible Foods, which makes meatless burgers, raised $500m in November, valuing the firm at $7bn.”
  • “In February, Nestlé, a packaged-goods giant, acquired Orgain, which makes plant-based protein powder, for an undisclosed sum rumoured to be around $2bn.”
  • Pseudo milk like almond milk, soy milk, and oat milk has dramatically improved and become comparable with cow’s milk – it can froth, pleasing coffee lovers and even satisfying bakers as well, the article says.
  • Food manufacturers have created a plant-based version of not just meat but of prawns, eggs, butter, chorizo, prawn, and cheese – one that can melt and stretch.
  • Creating an acceptable alternative to protein is one thing but making them tasty and nutritionally close to the real thing is challenging. Clever processing, additives, and adding nutrient-dense pulses and beans have allowed food manufacturers to achieve this.
  • But the success of plant-based protein is not without any challenges. Farming almonds to make milk uses massive amounts of water. The current inflation makes the real deal – meat and dairy products a cheaper alternative. And not all countries, particularly plant-rich diet countries like India or Nigeria, consider meat-eating a sign of wealth and are not as eager to embrace faux animal proteins.
  • The article says that some plant-based manufacturing firms like Oatley and Beyond Meat have seen plummeting sales figures since 2021 and in the first quarter of 2022.
  • While plant-based protein has a place in the market and is a solution to reduce GHG emissions, this should not completely replace real meat and dairy, which is still the best choice for growing children for their bone development and overall health.

A more sustainable pathway is following the IPCC’s recommendation, which is having a healthy and sustainable diet that is “high in coarse grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds; low in energy-intensive animal-sourced and discretionary foods (such as sugary beverages); and with a carbohydrate threshold” (IPCC, 2019).

The report recommends reducing food loss and waste to improve food security and lower GHG emissions.


Importance of Methane. (2021, June 30). EPA. Retrieved from

IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.- O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.)]. In press.

Plant-based proteins are no longer a side dish in diets. (2022, May 25). The Economist. Retrieved from


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