A joint study by the International Labour Organisation and the Inter-American Development Bank has revealed that decarbonisation, or a transition to a net-zero emission economy, would create 22.5 million jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) by 2030— 19 million of which would be in plant-based food production.
The study, entitled “Jobs in a net-zero emissions future in Latin America and the Caribbean” suggests that decarbonisation would be driven primarily by a transition from meat-heavy diets to more plant based diets, with higher levels of employment in sustainable (low carbon) agriculture, plant based food production and ecotourism.
The authors predict that these practices would net 15 million more jobs than under a business-as-usual scenario, despite the loss of 4.3 million jobs in livestock, poultry, dairy and fishing, and would reduce agricultural GHG emissions from unsustainably high levels (17 per cent of global agricultural GHG emissions).
“A shift to the production of high-value fruits and vegetables would provide greater opportunities for smallholders and family farmers as well as healthier diets for the population at large,” say the authors.
With projections that cardiovascular disease, most cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases will account for approximately 81 per cent of deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2030 (PRB, 2013), a shift to healthier diets would be impactful.
But is such a dramatic shift from historically engrained socio-cultural and economic norms likely or even possible?
The authors accept that “while overall these numbers are good news, the decarbonisation scenario presented here is not a prediction of the impact of current trends, but an exploration of the potential impact of structural changes in the energy and food sectors that would put countries on track to decarbonise by midcentury.”
And while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that moving from a meat and dairy-based diet to a plant-based diet will bring “great opportunities” to mitigate and adapt to climate change— suggesting that the LAC region should abdicate more than a quarter of world market share in beef production and one fifth of world market share in poultry production, would likely be a tough pill to swallow for even the most well-intended policy maker.
Further, it is questionable whether the cultural shift to predominantly plant based food consumption is realistic for the LAC region. While a recent market study conducted by DuPont suggests that flexetarianism is beginning to take hold in Latin America, the strong cultural predisposition towards the consumption of animal products appears to be increasing. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation reveals that demand for meat has grown by 2.45 per cent, and that of poultry by 4.1 per cent.
According to the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, less than 15 percent of the population in the English-speaking Caribbean consumes the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables (400 grams per day) while data from the 2019 ELANS (Latin American Study of Nutrition and Health) study reveals that only 7.2 per cent of a representative sample meets the WHO targets.
Questions have also been raised around the economic feasibility of the 2019 EAT-Lancet Commission diet prescribed in the report, with its heavy focus on “coarse grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds and low in sugars and animal based foods and moderate in terms of carbohydrate intake.”
A study published in journal, The Lancet Global Health found that the costs associated with EAT-Lancet diet were the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean as compared to other regions in the world.
Finally, the authors themselves question whether those who are currently employed in animal-based production would be able to shift to plant-based production.
That said, the report provides a ground-breaking analysis of the socio-economic and environmental benefits of transitioning to a hypothetical scenario of net-zero emissions, sustainable agriculture and plant-based diets which would serve as a valuable reference for LAC policy makers who are seeking to reduce their country’s carbon footprint while improving public health and growing local economies.
“If we do not act now, the same vulnerabilities that exposed workers and enterprises to the pandemic will expose them to the climate crisis.” – ILO and IADB