Make alternative proteins part of your climate story

Welcome members of the Society of Environmental Journalists! Discover why alternative proteins are a critical piece of the climate puzzle and find inspiration for future stories.

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Why alternative proteins?

Just as the world is changing how energy is produced, we need to change how meat is made – that’s where alternative proteins come in.

Animal agriculture—including the crops and pastures to feed those animals—accounts for between 11 and 20 percent of all global emissions (FAO, Nature Food). Even if fossil fuel emissions halted overnight, emissions from our global food system alone make meeting the Paris Agreement impossible.

To meet growing global demand, meat production is projected to increase by at least 50 percent from 2012 levels by 2050.

What alternative proteins bring to the table

  • Alternative proteins—meat made from plants, cultivated from animal cells, or produced via fermentation—are nature-positive proteins that can satisfy growing demand, reduce pressure on the planet, and enable sustainable agriculture. 
  • While campaigns focused on energy efficiency, improved public transportation, and reduced meat consumption are extremely valuable, we are unlikely to convince a majority of global consumers to consume less energy, drive less, or eat less meat. Alt proteins are a critical component of the many mitigation strategies needed to address the climate crisis.
  • According to Boston Consulting Group, at 11 percent market penetration, alternative proteins would have the climate mitigation impact of totally decarbonizing air travel—and this doesn’t include the sequestration potential of land freed up by decreased grazing and feed crop production.

What do we mean by alternative proteins?

  • Plant-based meat looks, tastes, and cooks like conventional meat but is made entirely from plants. Compared to conventional meat, plant-based meat uses up to 93 percent less land and 99 percent less water. A transition to plant-based proteins could slash emissions by 90 percent and reduce the amount of land needed to feed the human population by as much as 75 percent—the equivalent area of North America and Brazil. 
  • Cultivated meat, sometimes also referred to as “lab-grown” meat, is the same as the beef, pork, chicken, and fish we eat today—but grown directly from animal cells, without antibiotics.  Cultivated meat requires up to 90 percent less land than conventional beef, and could reduce air pollution by up to 94 percent. When produced with renewable energy, cultivated meat could cut emissions by 92 percent compared to conventional beef.
  • Fermentation is a powerful, flexible process for using microorganisms to produce alternative proteins. Used in food production for millennia, fermentation offers several advantages that can further increase the efficiency of the alt protein sector as a whole. Substituting just 20 percent of beef with microbial proteins from fermentation could cut deforestation in half by 2050.
An image showing environmental damage landscapes

What alternative proteins solve for

We can’t solve some of the biggest challenges facing our world today—from climate change to biodiversity loss to food insecurity—without reimagining how meat is made.

Learn how alternative proteins offer a solution to some of the most pressing problems of our time.


Today, food and agriculture account for a third of all global emissions. Animal agriculture alone—including the crops and pastures to feed those animals—is responsible for between 11 and 20 percent of all emissions. A solution? Change how meat is made.

Com21006 environmental benefits of alt proteins environmental impacts 1
Comparison of the environmental impacts of sustainably cultivated meat and conventional meat products.
Comparison of the environmental impacts of plant-based meat and conventional meat products.
Comparison of the environmental impacts of sustainably cultivated meat and conventional meat products.

Compared to conventional meat, plant-based meat uses up to 93 percent less land and 99 percent less water.  Cultivated meat requires up to 90 percent less land than conventional beef, and could reduce air pollution by up to 94 percent.

Making meat without the animal can help us meet our obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement alongside other solutions, like ending our reliance on fossil fuels. But a world without fossil fuels is not enough. A study led by Oxford University found that even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, the world cannot stay below 1.5° of warming without making meat differently.


The facts are clear: our global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone threatening more than 85 percent of the 28,000 species at risk of extinction. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), we must restore at least a billion hectares of degraded land to meet the Paris Agreement and slow the rate of species extinction. Yet changing how we make meat is not yet prioritized by many who are seeking to protect the world’s biological diversity.

A 2022 study in the journal Nature documented how substituting just 20 percent of beef with microbial proteins from fermentation could cut deforestation in half by 2050. Alternative seafood can ease the burden on our overfished oceans and help preserve wild fish stocks for the coastal communities that rely on them to survive. By supporting a shift to alternative proteins, biodiversity groups big and small can free up massive amounts of land and water for restoration and recovery.

Food security

The inefficient process of cycling crops through animals is one of the key drivers of food insecurity. Today, more than three-quarters of our agricultural land is used to produce meat, dairy, and eggs, yet animal products account for less than a fifth of the global calorie supply. Meanwhile, one-third of all staple crops grown today are fed to farmed animals, while one in nine people around the world is undernourished. Given finite land and water, a growing global population, and crisis-level food security issues, we can no longer afford the inefficiencies and risks of cycling crops through animals to produce protein.

But more efficient ways of producing protein exist that can enhance food security even in land- and water-constrained environments. Alternative proteins play a critical role in a secure food supply that’s equipped to feed a growing world. Alt proteins can be globally scalable and regional—produced by both large companies and by small-scale farmers with indigenous crops adapted to local climates and suited to the needs and tastes of local communities.

Global health

According to the UNEP and the International Livestock Research Institute, increasing demand for meat and today’s unsustainable methods of meat production are two of the seven most likely causes of the next pandemic.

Antibiotic overuse is leading to antibiotic-resistant superbugs that already kill more than a million people a year. Wave after wave of avian flu, swine flu, and other viruses will continue with business-as-usual industrial animal agriculture. High population densities, prolonged heightened stress levels, poor sanitation, and unnatural diets create perfect conditions for viruses to leap from livestock to humans.

A solution? Reduce the world’s reliance on a key driver of antibiotic resistance, new diseases, and pandemics: raising animals for food. Given growing global demand for meat, eggs, and dairy, a large-scale shift to alternative proteins will be central to mitigating the risk of antibiotic resistance and future pandemics while feeding a growing population.

77%More than three-quarters of our agricultural land is used to produce meat, dairy, and eggs.
18%However, animal products account for less than a fifth of the global calorie supply. 
3BShifting to plant-based diets would reduce global agricultural land use by 3 billion hectares—equivalent to the entire surface area of North America and Brazil.
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How alternative proteins fit into your climate coverage

Animal agriculture alone accounts for up to 20 percent of all emissions—yet a 2023 study from Sentiment Media and Faunalytics found that out of 1,000 climate articles surveyed, just 7% of them mention animal agriculture. And, within that coverage, much of the reporting covers climate impacts on livestock rather, than how meat production is a source of greenhouse gas emissions. 

There is also a clear knowledge gap when it comes to consumer awareness of animal agriculture’s role in the climate crisis—40 percent of respondents to a recent Newsweek poll said they believe eating less meat would not reduce climate emissions. 

What does this mean for you? A major storytelling opportunity.

With just six years left to halve global emissions, in-depth environmental journalism and solutions-focused reporting are more important than ever. Your coverage of alternative proteins as one such solution can make a huge impact. Explore below for inspiration and connect the dots between alternative proteins and some of today’s most pressing challenges.

Why are alternative proteins not yet prioritized as a global climate solution?

Top climate reports have made it clear that we must rapidly slash emissions to meet global climate targets and that business-as-usual agriculture combined with a global population nearing nine billion are throwing us off course. What’s missing from all these urgent calls to action? Rethinking how meat is made.

  • Even if fossil fuels were eliminated overnight, emissions from the food system alone would jeopardize the Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5C (source).
  • When renewable energy is used in production, cultivated meat can have a lower carbon footprint than the vast majority of today’s conventional meat and farmed seafood production. This remains true even when compared to extremely optimistic scenarios for improvements to conventional meat by 2030. (source).

What is agriculture’s role in the shrinking Colorado River basin?

Nearly 80 percent of total water consumption in the Colorado River basin is used for agriculture, with roughly half of that going toward the production of alfalfa hay for livestock, according to a 2020 study. A shift toward alternative proteins would free up significant land and water resources currently being used to raise animals for traditional meat and dairy.

  • Switching from conventional meat to plant-based meat reduces water use by up to 72 percent for chicken, 87 percent for beef, and 81 percent for pork (source.)
  • Cultivated meat could use 66 percent less water compared to conventional beef and result in lower environmental impacts in a variety of categories such as air pollution and acidification of soils compared to chicken, pork, and beef.

What is missing from the global food security conversation?

COVID-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and extreme drought have brought food insecurity to the forefront of many headlines in recent years. Shifting from industrialized animal agriculture toward alternative proteins is one of the most impactful ways we can strengthen stability and resilience within global food supply chains.

  • Consider that the global animal agriculture sector uses one-third of the world’s grain supply, with only a fraction of that being converted into edible protein.
  • Most of the calories from that feed will never make it to our plates. Take chicken. Chicken is the most efficient animal at turning crops into meat. Yet it requires nine calories of feed to produce just one calorie of consumable meat. Imagine preparing nine plates of food and throwing eight of them away.

How top media outlets cover alternative proteins 

Associated press

The Protein Problem

The Associated Press published “The Protein Problem”, a multimedia series featuring articles on plant-based and cultivated meat, and quoted GFI’s Bruce Friedrich.

Grist logo

The world now has a roadmap for food and climate. But it’s missing a few things.

GFI’s Shayna Fertig is quoted in this Grist piece covering the FAO roadmap released at COP28.

Outrage and optimism podcast

Outrage + Optimism: Hungry for Alternatives

GFI’s Bruce Friedrich unpacks the positive impact that alternative proteins can have on tackling the climate crisis, public health, and nature restoration.

Cnn logo

How we’ll eat in 2050

GFI’s Dr. Liz Specht talks to CNN about the major role alternative proteins play in the future of food.

Npr logo

FDA gives 2nd safety nod to cultivated meat, produced without slaughtering animals

GFI’s Bruce Friedrich celebrates FDA’s greenlight of GOOD Meat’s cultivated chicken.

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The Promise of Pulse Proteins

Learn how a rising demand for plant-based meats is causing farmers to break into the pulsing category.

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Gfi executive directorbruce friedrich presenting on plant-based and cultured meat at ted


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Climate solutions

Alternative proteins play an essential role in meeting global climate goals. Learn more about what you can do to help change how meat is made.