According to a recent report by Asia Research Engagement (ARE), a Singapore-based sustainable development organization, countries in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region should increase production of alternative protein sources by 2030 as part of efforts to address the climate crisis. The report notes that animal protein consumption and its associated emissions impacts are expected to peak towards the end of the decade.
The year 2060 will be a turning point, as alternative proteins will need to account for approximately 50% of the region's total protein production in order to reduce the level of carbon emissions generated. Thus, the opportunity to reduce environmental impacts will increase with the increased production of alternative protein sources in the future.
In this study, large-scale livestock production is widely considered to be a major source of significant carbon emissions, as well as being responsible for serious deforestation and biodiversity loss. This practice often involves deforestation by suppliers of animal feeds such as soybean meal and the construction of new livestock facilities.
According to published reports, livestock production has a greater environmental impact than all food crops combined. This is due to the higher intensity of resource use, including land, water, animals, and the greater use of antibiotics.
The findings are also a warning that without a shift to alternative proteins, it will be difficult to meet the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
By 2060, alternative protein production in these countries will need to increase by between 30 and 90 percent to reduce carbon emissions, according to the data in this report.
While this is a global issue, the focus on it is particularly important for countries in the Asian region. The main reason is that Asia accounts for more than half of the world's total animal protein supply, including meat and seafood, according to the ARE report.
The region is also home to the fastest growing human population, which has led to an increase in meat consumption. According to ARE, countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam will consume between 8.9 and 12.3 kilograms of protein per person from meat and seafood by 2020. This far exceeds the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission, a global group of scientists who provide guidance on nutrition, health, sustainability and policy from around the world.
Whether plant-based, fermented or developed in the lab, alternative proteins are as important to climate security as renewable energy or measures to reduce the use of single-use plastics. This is the view of experts in the field.
Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization also shows that the livestock sector contributes about 14.5% of total carbon emissions, and a report published this year in the journal Nature Food showed that a vegan diet has the potential to reduce emissions by 70% compared to a diet based on meat and dairy products.
According to Asia Research Engagement, intensive livestock systems are also a major driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss. They recommend that countries in the region end their contribution to deforestation practices by 2030. This is important because tropical deforestation contributes to about 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions each year.
Among them, Indonesia and Malaysia face serious deforestation problems, mainly caused by land clearing for oil palm plantations and pastures. Most of the world's oil palm trees grow in the rainforests of these two countries, which is directly linked to the deforestation problem. In August 2019, for example, Indonesia was ravaged by forest fires caused by oil palm plantations, signaling a climate disaster if measures to reduce deforestation are not taken soon.
Asia alone has the capacity to meet global demand, including in meat production, which is a major contributor at the global level. In fact, Asia is home to the largest meat production in the world, accounting for about 40-45% of total global production.
However, according to research by Asia Research Engagement, reducing meat consumption in the region could have a number of significant benefits. It would reduce land use, water use, animal and antibiotic consumption, and pollution. It would also help prevent deforestation and biodiversity loss, and reduce the risk of diseases associated with industrialized meat production systems and overconsumption.