Academic analysis shows it will be impossible for a global population of 10 billion to consume the amount and type of protein typical of current diets in North America and Europe if we want to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and meet the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
To get on track by 2030, with full delivery by 2050, requires a transformation in the global system for protein provision; this will likely follow a decade of transition where existing and future methods of meat and protein provision overlap and where new approaches (both animal-based and beyond) disrupt and displace the old. This evolutionary process may both learn from and draw parallels with the energy transition we are currently undergoing, as renewables and other low-carbon energy systems start to scale and replace 20th-century fossil fuel-based energy systems.
There is no silver bullet or single solution for this transformation; instead, progress is simultaneously needed across multiple areas if society is to be successful in finding ways to deliver on the growing protein needs for human health while maintaining a healthy planet. The transformation of today’s global system for protein provision will require progress along three interconnected pathways to deliver on tomorrow’s global protein needs: alternative proteins; current production systems; consumer behaviour change.
The future offers plenty of innovation potential in this regard, and the technological advancements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution present significant tools to make these pathways a reality. Beyond research, multistakeholder dialogues have highlighted how new feed technologies (such as insects, alga and micronutrition) and technology-based systems for growing feed (data science, microbiome technologies for plants and soil) can provide lower-environmental-impact feedstock solutions for current industrial-scale livestock and poultry producers.
To exploit these innovations and technologies, and make the necessary progress along these three pathways by 2030, requires a collective set of strategies that go beyond market-based technical solutions; these need to be able to accelerate transformative change in today’s global system for protein provision quickly and at scale, but in a socially and politically inclusive manner.
Four specific strategies for delivering 21st-century protein through to 2030 have consequently been identified, illuminating the most effective “drivers of change” within this context. These strategies suggest a roadmap for delivering 21st-century protein:
- Highlighting the multiple benefits to society of transforming today’s protein systems
- Promoting pathways to achieve cost parity across choices that deliver on multiple benefits
- Pursuing an intentional “Transition Decade” using narratives
- Developing innovation ecosystems and collaboration platforms for research and action
This paper explores this roadmap in further detail.