Contributions of healthier diets and agricultural productivity toward sustainability and climate goals in the United States


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Meeting ambitious climate targets will require deploying the full suite of mitigation options, including those that indirectly reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions. Healthy diets have sustainability co-benefits by directly reducing livestock emissions as well as indirectly reducing land use emissions. Increased crop productivity could indirectly avoid emissions by reducing cropland area. However, there is disagreement on the sustainability of proposed healthy U.S. diets and a lack of clarity on how long-term sustainability benefits may change in response to shifts in the livestock sector. Here, we explore the GHG emissions impacts of seven scenarios that vary U.S. crop yields and healthier diets in the U.S. and overseas. We also examine how impacts vary across assumptions of future ruminant livestock productivity and ruminant stocking density in the U.S. We employ two complementary land use models—the US FABLE Calculator, an agricultural and forestry sector accounting model with high agricultural commodity representation, and GLOBIOM, a spatially explicit partial equilibrium optimization model for global land use systems. Results suggest that healthier U.S. diets that follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans reduce agricultural and land use greenhouse gas emissions by 25–57% (approx 120–310 MtCO2e/y) and pastureland area by 28–38%. The potential emissions and land sparing benefits of U.S. agricultural productivity growth are modest within the U.S. due to the increasing comparative advantage of U.S. crops. Our findings suggest that healthy U.S. diets can significantly contribute toward meeting U.S. long-term climate goals for the land use sectors.

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