Almost 100 billion tons of CO₂ could be pulled out of the atmosphere by the end of the century. That is, if high-income countries switch to a plant-based diet. The double carbon profit of returning farmland to its natural state would equal about 14 years’ worth of agricultural emissions, researchers from Leiden University write in Nature Food.
The area needed for animals to graze and growing feed is huge. It takes up about 80% of all agricultural land or about 35% of the total habitable land in the world. An international research team, led by scientists at Leiden University, calculated that if high-income nations moved away from animal products, much less land would be needed to grow food. Vast areas could then revert to their natural state, with wild plants and trees drawing carbon from the atmosphere.
‘It is perhaps one of the biggest environmental health opportunities out there,’ said lead author Zhongxiao Sun at the China Agricultural University. ‘A rapid shift to these diets could really help society stay within environmental limits.’