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Synergistic climate and biodiversity benefits of alternative proteins

The direct climate and biodiversity benefits of alternative proteins are well understood by the alternative protein community, but the synergistic benefits of alternative proteins with other solutions—for example, clean energy and reforestation efforts—are often underappreciated. Leaning into these synergistic benefits can help efforts to build community with climate and conservation organizations and to drive engagement with policymakers.

Production platform
  • Cultivated icon Cultivated
  • Fermentation icon Fermentation
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Solution category
  • Ecosystem
Value chain segment
  • Investment
  • Demand Generation
Relevant actor
  • Industry
  • Academics
  • Donors
  • GFI
  • Investors
  • NGO’s
  • Policymakers
  • Startups

Current challenge

Alternative proteins are not always acknowledged as the climate and conservation solution that they have the potential to be. Coordinated implementation of key technologies and policies across climate change mitigation, conservation, and alternative proteins can have impacts greater than the sum of their parts, but these benefits may not be realized without effective communication between actors focused on different cause areas. Alternative proteins have exceptional climate benefits compared to conventional meat, as highlighted by the Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which identified alternative proteins as transformative mitigation solutions

Coordinated implementation of alternative proteins and other climate mitigation solutions can work in synergy. Their interdependencies can be described simply by the following set of behaviors (as illustrated in the causal loop diagram, Figure 1):

  1. Increased adoption of alternative protein reduces the need for animal agriculture
  2. Lowered demand for animal agriculture reduces deforestation incentives and frees up land
  3. This available land can be used for climate solutions (shown as forestation and clean energy)
  4. Increased clean energy production enables alternative proteins to further reduce their direct impacts on the climate
  5. Lower emissions from alternative protein increases adoption (looping to #1)
A causal loop diagram illustrating how cultivated meat interacts with other climate solutions: classical animal agriculture leads to deforestation, lower land availability, and greenhouse emissions. Cultivated meat reduces animal agriculture and frees up land, which can be used for reforestation, clean energy production, or other climate solutions. Clean energy reduces fossil fuel production, which directly reduces emissions and, in the process, reduces cultivated meat emissions that had been derived from electricity and utility requirements.
Figure 1: Synergies between cultivated meat and other climate solutions unlock emission reductions. Cultivated meat, clean energy, and forestation (as well as other forms of carbon sequestration) could play central and interdependent roles in reducing net greenhouse emissions. Created using

Similarly, alternative proteins and conservation solutions also have important synergies. Alternative proteins allow us to protect terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity without compromising global food security (Figure 2). Forests harbor most of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. In reducing land use pressures and lowering deforestation incentives from animal agriculture, alternative proteins make room for larger-scale implementation of new and existing conservation solutions. In the oceans, an estimated 34% of stocks are overfished, and 58% are fished at maximum sustainable capacity. Alternative seafood would reduce fishing needs, complementing efforts to establish and safeguard conservation efforts like marine protected areas. Alternative proteins also directly support biodiversity by minimizing the detrimental zoonotic disease (Hayek 2022) and pollution impacts of animal agriculture.

Cultivated meat interacts positively with conservation efforts to protect biodiversity. Cultivated meat’s lower land use (as compared to animal agriculture) lowers deforestation pressures while maintaining global food security. Cultivated seafood reduces the incentive for overfishing, which bolsters and enables marine protected areas, while also maintaining global food security.
Figure 2: Synergies between cultivated meat and conservation efforts protect biodiversity. Created using

Proposed solution

The alternative protein NGO, industry, and academic communities can take two steps to realize the synergies with climate and conservation efforts: 1) build values-rooted community with climate and conservation organizations, and 2) develop awareness and engagement with government entities.

An advocacy coalition framework (ACF) is one system for structuring priorities and positions within these three steps that may serve as a useful guide. ACF is a powerful tool for mapping policy networks–groups of political actors such as citizens, nonprofits, corporations, and government institutions–and understanding how the behaviors of these actors and the alliances between them relate to political change. ACF is well-established for climate change (Gabehart et al. 2022) and natural resources policy (Sotirov et al. 2012). The alternative protein community should begin by synthesizing lessons learned from these studies. No alternative protein studies that use ACF have been conducted to date. 

Values-rooted community with climate and conservation organizations

The alternative protein community needs to establish closer ties with climate and conservation organizations and initiatives. This would not only improve the flow of information and continuity between efforts but also position these communities in an alliance with a stronger voice. 

There is precedent for these communities bringing forward a unified voice.  Recently, 160 NGOs came together to sign a letter to urge an Executive Order to promote plant-based foods in U.S. federal facilities and to commit to a timeline for creating and implementing food procurement standards. An example from the local level is the recent move by 1,400 U.S. mayors at the Conference of Mayors to embrace and promote plant-based foods. This support came from a variety of sectors including organizations with interests in alternative protein, climate, and conservation.

The distance between the alternative protein and the majority of the climate or conservation communities is likely due to lack of understanding and commitment to other existing priorities. Connecting through green working groups may be advantageous for engaging at a nexus of awareness and agenda-setting. In these groups, it will be important for the alternative protein community to ensure that climate and conservation actors understand the co-benefits of alternative proteins – from mitigating antimicrobial resistance to reducing zoonotic disease outbreaks. 

Awareness and engagement with policymakers

The alternative protein community needs to 1) collect evidence to understand the potential impacts of alternative proteins in concert with other climate and biodiversity solutions, 2) structure effective narratives to fit the priorities and frameworks for political players, and 3) strengthen those narratives by directly addressing competing claims.

Computational modeling methodologies like life cycle analysis (LCA) is a powerful and foundational approach to assess alternative protein’s value as a climate and conservation solution. LCA standardization for alternative proteins is necessary to make cross-product and cross-organization comparisons. It is equally important that alternative proteins generate real-world wins that back up these assessments. 
The alternative protein community and its allies must also understand how to communicate this evidence in a policy-making system. There is a wealth of underlying psychology and policy theory that can be leveraged to improve engagement efficacy (Cairney et al. 2017). Modern policy-making systems are complex, and understanding the nuances of how individual and group behavior play out could be assisted by framing tools, such as the already mentioned ACF. Davidson 2017 and Jones et al. 2016 both provide in-depth complimentary commentaries on how to translate understanding of the policy-making system into effective communication.

Anticipated impact

The following potential impacts should be kept in mind as alternative protein technology and engagement with climate and biodiversity solutions moves forward. 

Driving technology at climate and conservation intersections

Engaging with the climate and conservation communities lays a foundation for developing and implementing science, technology, and policy in synergy areas with alternative proteins. These areas may include the likes of agrivoltaics (Abidin et al. 2022), regenerative agriculture, and renewable energy-powered vertical farming.

Lessons from other cycles of adoption

The alternative protein community can look to the recent success and maturation of the electric vehicle (EV) industry as a model pathway for policy-fueled adoption in the climate tech space. Policies drove down the cost of EV ownership, which in turn led to higher production capacity and greater economies of scale. Companies also introduced EV hybrid vehicles to further dilute costs and trend toward price parity with conventional combustion engine vehicles. Subsidies for alternative proteins could similarly lower costs, while hybrid products could further support early inroads.
Additionally, the discourse and trajectory of direct air capture (DAC) as a climate solution is valuable for the alternative protein community to consider for accessing the synergy with climate and biodiversity solutions. DAC has historically faced strong concerns in the public eye (Satterfield, et al. 2023) but has been able to transition into more broad acceptance and adoption (Ozkan et al. 2022).

GFI resources

Person pointing to report with a pen

Cultivated meat LCA/TEA report analysis

Recent studies show cultivated meat could have reduced environmental impacts and be cost-competitive with some forms of conventional meat.

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Climate benefits of accelerating global production of alternative seafood

This white paper explores how plant-based and cultivated seafood could fill the growing seafood supply gap while mitigating climate change.

Meet the author

Bruce friedrich

Matt McNulty

University of California, Davis

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