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The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) recent 2020 Living Planet Report exposed that the most important direct driver of species loss is land-use change, in particular, the conversation of pristine native habitats into agricultural systems. Which is why what people eat makes such a difference in stopping the degradation of nature.
This is the focus of a new report from WWF that shows that a global shift toward healthier, more sustainable diets will combat climate change, improve human health and food security, reduce biodiversity loss, save lives, decrease the risks of future pandemics, and unlock economic benefits.
Moreover, the report states that dietary shifts toward plant-based diets can contribute to climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals.
However, this is achieved differently in communities across the globe and must be done so through localized approaches.
Why This Matters: What we eat matters, and at this moment in time, while we are producing enough food to feed the planet we’re neither equitably allocating food nor are we respecting the boundaries of our planet. And as WWF explained, we are now beginning to see the consequences of our actions and the warning signs of a planet in crisis. Dietary shifts are key in reversing course so that food is produced in a way that restores the planet, not destroys it.
They’re also a (in rich countries, at least) relatively small behavioral change that can have a big impact. What’s more is that many governments already have NDGs that can be used as a starting point to accelerate healthy eating patterns.
The Work: WWF identified five strategic actions that can be strongly influenced by dietary shifts and are needed to fundamentally change the negative externalities of our food system. The aim with these actions is to shift our food system from one that exploits the planet to one that restores it for nature and people. They include:
Reversing biodiversity loss
Living within the global carbon budget for food
Feeding humanity on existing cropland
Achieving negative emissions; and
Optimizing crop yields.
These steps are necessary in “bending the curve” on the negative impacts of the food system:
Can It Be Done? Diets are part of culture and also very personal to each individual. So can people be persuaded to eat in a way that supports nature? It seems like an uphill battle but WWF explained that major dietary changes are a surprisingly common occurrence.
Over the last half-century, many countries have undergone a nutrition transition from diets low in fat, sugar and meat to a diet dominated by animal- source foods, refined grains, saturated fats and sugar15,16 and fad diets such as the keto, paleo and Zone diets are always quick to penetrate popular culture.
The power to shift diets is also more often in the hands of the individual than for other environmental choices.
The U.S. food system is especially crucial in leading a global shift to more planet-based eating and environmentally conscious agriculture, explained, Melissa D. Ho, Senior Vice President, Freshwater and Food at WWF.
And on a global scale, rethinking what we eat and how it’s grown is an opportunity not a loss says WWF’s Global Food Lead Scientist, Brent Loken:
“Taking a look at our food system today and seeing hunger, inequity, and environmental devastation, you might think it’s simply impossible to feed 8-10 billion people without destroying the planet. But that’s not the case; in fact, the opposite is true. Not only can we feed the entire population of Earth, we can do it in a way that improves human health globally and allows nature to recover from the damage we’ve caused. A global shift in diets to prioritize nutrition hand-in-hand with sustainability—something that will look different in every country—has the potential reverse biodiversity loss, combat climate change, and save human lives.”
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