Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


Plant-based diets can stop climate chaos! Even if the world went fossil free, increasing animal consumption will continue global warming.



Livestock is the second leading source of manmade greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Demand for animal products is projected to increase by 50% from 2013 to 2025. 

More than 70 billion farm animals are bred each year. Humans consume 12% of global appropriated net primary production (NPP), but livestock consumes 58% of NPP. A quarter of the global land surface is devoted to livestock production, and food animals are fed 45% of the world’s grain, while they provide just 17% of human energy intake (UNFAO, 2011).

It takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of meat, and 25 gal for 1 lb of wheat. A plant-based diet requires 300 gal of water, while a meat-based diet requires 4,000 gal per day. UNEP concluded, "A substantial reduction of [climate/environmental] impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change away from animal products." (2010 p 82) 

The Problem: Shorter-lived Climate Forcers

Most actions for mitigating climate change and slowing global warming temperatures have relied on reducing C02 emissions over the long-term. A short-term solution to reduce short-lived GHGs by reducing animal consumption will provide more time to implement long-term solutions of reducing C02. This could cool the planet faster and cheaper than by focusing only on CO2.

Methane has a warming potential 72 times that of CO2 over a 20-year time frame, with a half-life of only 7 years. A main source is livestock production.

Black carbon is an intense heating agent in the air, particularly on ice and snow, responsible for 40% of global warming. However, it remains in the air for only 1-4 weeks. It is mainly caused by fires to clear forest and land for pasture and feed.

Ground level ozone has an impact equal to 20% of CO2. It stays in the air for only 20 days, but is a contributor to smog and is a health concern. It is best controlled by reducing Methane.

The Solution: Reducing Animal Consumption

The key actions of this plan are: creating an Open Web Library (OWL) on diet and climate, and campaigns to slow the rate of increase in the consumption of animal products in each region. Even a slight slowing of the rapid rise in demand for animal products will lead to significantly less GHGs being released from each region.

There is a need for a tailored approach to climate change mitigation that targets specific unsustainable practices, like consumption of beef, and that aims to change them. And the aggregate of many small changes in diet and consumption could trigger a broader societal transformation. MCC's library and campaigns focuses on livestock consumption, meat alternatives and healthy lifestyles. They highlight health risks and climate change risks that are linked to diets, carbon footprints, and over-consumption.

Students are the best catalyst to bring about change in their societies. Building a new energy conscious generation by imparting education and awareness to children and young adults can be effective. This plan will be promoted through schools and learning centers, health and environmental organizations, and media.

The main goal will be to encourage personal dietary changes, lower consumption of resources, and adoption of meat-free days. Emphasis will be on the role of nutrition in the development of chronic disease; physiological reasons we are drawn to foods that do not support health; environmental consequences of food choices, and the rationale for whole food, plant-based nutrition.

This awareness-raising plan is feasible and already working to help millions of people across the globe eat more plant-based meals. And it can help the world to effectively address climate change with a rapid reduction of short-lived global GHGs. Reduced livestock consumption will also lead to improved soils, reforestation and sequestration. We can reduce atmospheric carbon to a safe level by globally replacing between 50 and 85% of today’s animal-based foods with foods made from plants. 

Which plan do you select for China?

Seed proposal: INDC submitted to 2015 UN climate negotiations by China

Which plan do you select for India?

Massive campaign in India to create a network of Young Energy Ambassador

Which plan do you select for the United States?

Unify America: Set the Example by Leading from the Front

Which plan do you select for Europe?

Europe's Integrated Climate Action Plan

Which plan do you select for other developing countries?

Changing attitudes towards Climate Change in Pakistan

Which plan do you select for other developed countries?

ASEAN Educate Climate for Children

What additional cross-regional proposals are included in your plan, if any?

There are no current Climate CoLab plans with a focus on livestock production and plant-based diets, however two previous winners did address the livestock issue, and these were most useful in designing this proposal. MCC integrated many aspects of the following two proposals, and their evaluations and comments, into this plan.

The following are not Climate CoLab proposals, but external guides on diet that could are useful for addressing diet and climate issues across all of the regions, and which could be adopted globally. 

There are other dietary, health and environmental guides listed in the References section, including multimedia video resources which we will focus on.

How do the regional and cross-sectoral plans above fit together?

Integration of Regional Plans

This plan integrates regional proposals that include aspects of climate literacy, social action and agriculture that could be used cross-regionally. It integrates cross-regional climate literacy and social action contained in the selected plans for US, Europe, India, Pakistan, other developing countries, and other developed countries. These regional plans address aspects of sustainable development goals and climate change mitigation, public education and communications, and individual and collective actions that will be part of OWL and MCC's outreach campaigns. 

Sustainable development goals of reducing the environmental impacts of animal agriculture and addressing climate change globally via short-term GHGs are interrelated. Reducing livestock production and consumption of animal products are mutually beneficial solutions that further both aims.

The regional plans makes use of public education, youth engagement, and communications initiatives that could contribute to solutions. This plan integrates these regional approaches to encourage individuals to take dietary actions to reduce their footprint, that when compounded, can make changes significant enough to effect global change.

This proposal focuses on increasing climate literacy among students via social media, and encourages them to get involved as Climate Ambassadors (CAs). The project's CAs are similar to the India Plan's Youth Energy Ambassador and we adopt some of their energy literacy work with schools in our focus on diet cross-regionally. This project focuses on local communities and working with local environmental groups, similar to the Pakistan plan, and will do so across all regions.

This proposal integrates cross-regional agricultural plans included in the Europe, Pakistan and China plans on agricultural issues that will be available on OWL. The library will also include information on the China plan's focus on methane.

This project targets similar stakeholders, addresses common goals, and offers a variety of materials to all regions. This proposal uses common outreach efforts contained in the US and Pakistan plans. MCC will select aspects from regional plans to include in an Open Web Library (OWL). The project will promote its Open Web Library and diet and climate campaigns using social media in all regions.

The Open Web Library will include information from the Pakistan on reforestation, use of indigenous plants, installation of pollution treatment units in industries, and development of environmentally sustainable infrastructure.

Stakeholders and Goals

Children, young adults, students teachers, schools, learning centers, farmers, environmental organizations, and health institutions are all key stakeholders in this worldwide campaign. 

Information about the severity of the effects of climate change is starting to resonant and people are looking for solutions. This project gives people an opportunity to solve the climate crisis an individual level , and to influence the market to reduce production.

This intersectional project will provide meat-free options along with analysis of food and climate justice issues like food deserts and loss of indigenous agriculture/bio-diversity.This project is highly compatible with the renewed interest in urban farming and the long standing opposition to GMOs and corporate of control of agriculture. The project will offer information about how meat-alternatives could support other green efforts around food, so additional audiences and demographic groups may be reached. 

Project Staff and Networking

The project will be implemented by the MCC team and volunteer Climate Ambassadors (CAs) from each region. As part of the Open Web Library, MCC will put together a list of diet and climate online resources, reports, booklets, and videos for CAs to use, for example, the Meatless Monday campaign. MCC will promote OWL via social media and to regional organizations.

MCC will put together a contact list of shareholders and offer diet and climate materials to groups, schools, organizations and institutions in each region. MCC will provide training and consultation on how to adapt the materials for specific goals that a group, class, school, organization, institution or region may have.

The MCC team will train CAs on how to use the open library and adapt the materials, and CAs in turn will provide training and materials to schools, organizations and groups in their regions. 

To reduce GHG emissions associated this project, MCC will use exclusively electronic copies of reports and graphics and encourage CAs and stakeholders to only use them electronically as well. To reduce travel, MCC will provide all training, workshops and consultation only through video conferencing, like Skype.

The MCC team and CAs will work with existing organizations with emphasis on larger grassroots institutions like Growing Power and Navdanya. In China and India, the team will collaborate with Brighter Green, China Dialogue, and other groups with the goal of transforming public policy .   

Open Web Library (OWL) Materials

The water-use and GHG emissions for various animal products will be highlighted in OWL, along with the kinds of meat that should be particularly avoided, like beef and fish. Informational charts and graphics will be used from "Meat Atlas" and other reports. The project will make use of social media campaigns that focus on using visual media, especially videos on diet and climate. For example, promoting a short video of the sources of short-lived gases, like "Cooling the planet = Fast Acting Solutions." 

Dietary changes will be promoted as part of a larger aim of reducing individual GHG footprints and over-consumption in general. For example, the use of plastics and ocean pollution will be addressed. Critical health issues related to diet like chronic disease, the overuse antibiotics, and pollution, will also be explored on OWL.

Explanation of the emissions scenario calculated in the Impact tab

MCC will use estimates of GHG savings per plant-based meal and meat-substitution from the chart above, and have stakeholders keep track of daily, weekly and monthly savings, eg, for Meatless Mondays.

Many studies examine how decreasing livestock production could significantly reduce the emissions trajectory. Agriculture releases between 20 - 33% of GHGs from deforestation, methane and fertilizers,(1) and many agencies call for reducing livestock emissions,(2) including the World Bank,(3) UNEP,(4) and others.(5)

Cattle can emit 22 lbs of CO2e per lb of carcass,(6) and animal protein takes 11 times the amount of fossil fuel and 100 times more water than vegetable protein.(7) GHGs from plant-based protein is much smaller,(8) up to 100 times smaller than animal-based sources.(9) Livestock already produces 33% of GHGs,(10) and there will be an 80% increase in agricultural emissions by 2050,(11) equal to the world’s carbon budget, with livestock being a major contributor.(12)

Reducing the consumption of animals,(13) and cow's milk are essential to stay below 2°C(14) with a high probability,(15) and must be rationed to four portions a week to avoid run-away climate change.(16) The developed world have to cut fertilizer use by 50%,(17) and stop eating so much meat to stabilize N2O emissions by 2050.(18) The best intervention is not to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat.(19)

Around 26% of GHG savings could be made with a plant-based diet,(20) and 10.4 million square miles of pasture and 386,000 square miles of cropland could be abandoned with reduced meat consumption. Universal veganism would cut agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17%, methane emissions by 24%, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21% by 2050.(21)

Climate talks should call for an increase in the price of animal products and other foods that contribute to climate change,(22) and policy makers must try to influence what citizens eat.(23) A tax on animal flesh could encourage people to eat less.(24)

What are the plan’s key benefits?

Impact Emissions Scenario
In the Impact Tab, the default population and GDP figures are used. Climate literacy along with national mitigation goals could improve efficiency for buildings and transportation by 5% - a conservative figure that balances this scenario. 

High subsidies for renewables, biomass and carbon capture are compatible with this plan. With dietary policy linked to carbon pricing, this plan projects reduction of land use and other GHG emissions at 50% by 2050, to keep global temperatures around 2.5C rise.

More aggressive carbon pricing, meat taxes, land use emissions reduction greater than 50%, and reforestation, could further limit temperature increase.

Key Benefits
The Meatless Monday movement was initiated in World War I by the US Food Administration to urge families to reduce consumption of key staples to aid the war effort. The Meatless Monday campaign returned in World War II and beyond, when Presidents Roosevelt and Truman used rationing to help feed war-ravaged Europe. Climate Change is no less a crisis.

This project addresses sustainable development goals and climate change. It involves interventions in multiple sectors of the economy, especially the agricultural and transportation industries. And, the project includes activities at the international, national, regional, and local levels that are significant enough to effect climate change.

Since livestock production is the second leading cause of global warming, replacing 50 to 85% of today's animal-based foods with foods made from plants can reduce atmospheric carbon to safe levels.

Dietary change requires few costs, no new infra-structure and empowers consumers to exert choice in an area where they have direct results. Nothing else can reduce greenhouse gas as significantly, quickly, safely and cheap, especially short-term climate forcers. And unlike top-down approaches, individual dietary change is local, autonomous, empowering, and does not rely on corporations and governments taking action.

What are the plan’s costs?

This project will cost around $20,000 for a year. The funds will be used to: (i) host and design a website for the diet and climate open library; (ii) research, collect, organize and post text and multimedia materials; (iii) recruit and train CAs to use and adapt materials; (iv) research and collate a list of shareholders in each region; (v) contact shareholders and other interested parties; (vi) consult, train and modify materials for groups and organizations in different regions.

The MCC team will use grant funds from Climate CoLab to design, implement, train, consult and manage this climate literacy project for six months. After the CoLab funds are used, MCC will crowdfund and apply for more grants to maintain and continue the Open Web Library and literacy campaigns. MCC will keep this project operational as long as possible.

This project's focus on diet and climate is unique. It uses input from other regional CoLab plans to address animal consumption that are commonplace for awareness raising and social action. CoLab members from other plans did not contribute to this proposal.

What are the key challenges to enacting this plan?

The key challenges to this plan are language differences and cultural challenges that may arise in implementing this project through various parts of the world.

To address some of the language difficulties, MCC will include materials in the Open Web Library that could be automatically be translated, such as website text and captions on videos. We will also work with CAs to do translation of short and compelling material. And we will include materials that have been translated into many languages, like the film Cowspiracy. 

To address cultural dietary practices involving meat consumption, MCC will focus on environment and health issues, and stress the benefits of plant-based diets for individual and global health. In each region, MCC will work with existing environmental and health groups who already have relationships and programs in various regions that are compatible with our project. And, we will adapt our materials and outreach campaigns to be more relevant to local organizations and populations.


The timeline for this project is six months, from January 1st, 2016 to June 30th, 2016. MCC will apply for more funding to extend the project for another six months.

Month 1:
- Host and design a website for the diet and climate Open Web Library
- Research, collect, organize and post text and multimedia materials

Month 2:
- Research, collect, organize and post text and multimedia materials on OWL  
- Recruit and train CAs to use and adapt materials on OWL

Month 3:
- Research, collect, organize and post text and multimedia materials on OWL
- Launch OWL
- Recruit and train CAs to use and adapt materials on OWL
- Research and collate a list of shareholders in each region
- Launch climate and diet outreach campaign in 1st region

Month 4: 
- Recruit and train CAs to use and adapt materials on OWL
- Research and collate a list of shareholders in each region
- Contact shareholders and other interested parties
- Launch climate and diet outreach campaign in 2nd region

Month 5: 
- Recruit and train CAs to use and adapt materials on OWL
- Research and collate a list of shareholders in each region
- Contact shareholders and other interested parties
- Launch climate and diet outreach campaign in 3rd region
- Consult, train and modify materials for groups and organizations in different regions

Month 6: 
- Recruit and train CAs to use and adapt materials on OWL
- Research and collate a list of shareholders in each region
- Contact shareholders and other interested parties
- Launch climate and diet outreach campaign in 4th region
- Consult, train and modify materials for groups and organizations in different regions


Emissions Section

1 West, PC et al. 2014. "Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment." Science 345; 6194:325-328
2 AJ McMichael, et al. 2007. “Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health,” Lancet 370; 9594:1253–1263
3 C de Haan, et al. 2001. "Livestock Development." World Bank Report 23241
4 UNEP 2010 Report
5 A Clonan et al. 2012. "The challenges of eating a healthy and sustainable diet," Am J Clin Nutr 96; 3:459-460
6 NA Browne, et al. 2011. "A comparative analysis of on-farm GHGs from agricultural enterprises in south eastern Australia." Animal Feed Sci & Tech 166–167; 23:641–652
7 D & M Pimentel. 2003. "Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment," Am J Clin Nutr 78; 3
8 AD González, et al. 2011. "Protein efficiency per unit energy and per unit GHG." Food Policy 36; 5:562–570
9 D Nijdam, et al. 2012. "The price of protein: Review of land use and carbon footprints from life cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes." Food Policy 37; 6:760–770
10 FOEE. 2014. "The Meat Atlas." Friends of the Earth Europe
11 D Tilman et al. 2014. "Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health." Nature 515; 518–522
12 B Bajželj, et al. 2014. "Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation." Nature Climate Change 4:924–929
13 R Bailey, et al. 2014. "Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector." Chatham House
14 T Powell & T Lenton. 2012 "Eat less meat and improve farming efficiency to tackle climate change." Energy and Env Sci, Exeter.
15 S Wirsenius, et al. "GHG taxes on animal food products." Climatic Change 108; 1-2:159-184
16 T Garnett. 2008. "Cooking up a storm: Food, GHG and our changing climate." Center for Env Strategy, Univ of Surrey
17 MA Sutton, et al. 2011. "European Nitrogen Assessment." Cambridge
18 EA Davidson. 2012. "Representative concentration pathways and mitigation scenarios for nitrous oxide," Env. Res. Lett. 7 024005
19 G Eshel, et al. 2014. "Land, irrigation water, GHG, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the US." PNAS 111:33
20 M. Berners-Lee, et al. 2012. "The relative GHG impacts of realistic dietary choices." Energy\ Policy 43:184–190
21 E Stehfest, et al. 2009. "Climate benefits of changing diet." Climatic Change. 95; 1-2:83-102
22 M Wardrop. 2009. "Lord Stern: 'People should give up eating meat to halt climate change'" Telegraph. Oct 27
23 S Åström, et al. 2013. "Food consumption choices and climate change." IVL Swedish Env Res Inst. Report B2091
24 WJ Ripple, et al. 2014. "Ruminants, climate change and climate policy." Nature Climate Change 4:2–5

Other Sources

  • M Mekonnen et al. 2012. "A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products." Ecosystems 15:401–415
  • JHCLF. 2015. Teaching the Food System
  • UNEP. 2012. "Growing GHGs due to meat production."  
  • G Koneswaran G, et al. 2008. "Global Farm Animal Production and Global Warming" Env Health Pers. 116(5):578–582. 
  • L Reijnders et al. 2003. "Quantification of the environmental impact of different dietary proteins." Am J of Clin Nutri. 78; 3:664S-668
  • CL Weber et al. (2008). "Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the US." Env Sci & Tech. 42, 3508–3513.  
  • For more, see Diet & Climate Bibliography


Materials: Video Resources