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Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods

Abstract

Agriculture and land use are major sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but previous estimates were either highly aggregate or provided spatial details for subsectors obtained via different methodologies. Using a model–data integration approach that ensures full consistency between subsectors, we provide spatially explicit estimates of production- and consumption-based GHG emissions worldwide from plant- and animal-based human food in circa 2010. Global GHG emissions from the production of food were found to be 17,318 ± 1,675 TgCO2eq yr−1, of which 57% corresponds to the production of animal-based food (including livestock feed), 29% to plant-based foods and 14% to other utilizations. Farmland management and land-use change represented major shares of total emissions (38% and 29%, respectively), whereas rice and beef were the largest contributing plant- and animal-based commodities (12% and 25%, respectively), and South and Southeast Asia and South America were the largest emitters of production-based GHGs.

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Fig. 1: GHG emissions from different subsectors of plant- and animal-based food production/consumption.
Fig. 2: GHG emissions from the productions of plant-based food, animal-based food and others.
Fig. 3: GHG emissions from the productions of top-contributing commodities.
Fig. 4: GHG emissions from food production at the country scale.
Fig. 5: GHG emissions due to import and export of plant- and animal-based food in different regions.

Data availability

The results for CO2, CH4 and N2O from the plant- and animal-based food are available at the ISAM website http://climate.atmos.uiuc.edu/Food_Emissions. The results for individual plant- and animal-based commodities are available upon request.

Code availability

All codes are available upon request.

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Acknowledgements

This research is partly supported by the US Department of Energy (number DE-SC0016323). The map figures in the main text and the Supplementary Information were created using Matplotlib Basemap Toolkit of Python.

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Authors

Contributions

X.X. and A.K.J. designed the framework of this study, collected data and analysed the results. X.X., P. Sharma, S.S. and T.-S.L. performed the model simulations. P.C., F.N.T., P. Smith and N.C. contributed to the interpretation and implication of the results. X.X. and A.K.J. wrote the paper with inputs from all coauthors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Atul K. Jain.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Food thanks Sarah Bridle, Timothy Robinson and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary methods, discussion, Figs. 1–10 and Tables 1–17.

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Xu, X., Sharma, P., Shu, S. et al. Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods. Nat Food 2, 724–732 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00358-x

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