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An ABM of Future Dairy and Plant-Based Milk Consumption for UK Climate Targets (version 1.0.0)

A reduction in the production and consumption of meat and dairy across much of the world is critical for climate change mitigation, the alleviation of ecological stress, and improved health. We update an agent-based model (ABM) of historic UK milk consumption and apply it to scenarios of dairy reduction and adoption of plant-based milk (PBM) out to 2050. The updated model is comprised of a cognitive function, where agents perceive the physical, health and environmental characteristics of milk choice, which is modified by habit and social influence. We use European Social Survey 2018 and British Social Attitudes 2008 survey data to empirically inform the model. Taking a backcasting approach, we calibrate parameters against published UK dairy reduction targets (2030 and 2050), and test how different price relationships, and characterisations of environmental concern, may affect simulated milk consumption from 2020 to 2050. Scenarios for core targets (20% less dairy by 2030 and 35% by 2050) largely produced plausible consumption trajectories. However, at current pricing of dairy and PBM, simulated consumption was mostly unable to deliver on desired core targets, but this improved markedly with dairy prices set to organic levels. The influence of changing environmental concern on milk choice resulted in higher levels of dairy milk reduction. When modelled as transient, intense shocks to public concern, consumption patterns did not fundamentally change. However, small, incremental but permanent changes to concern did produce structural changes to consumption patterns, with dairy falling below plant-based alternatives at around 2030. This study is the first to apply an ABM in the context of scenarios for dairy reduction and PBM adoption in service to UK climate-related consumption targets. It can serve as valuable bottom-up, alternative, evidence on the feasibility of dietary shift targets, and poses policy implications for how to address impediments to behavioural change.

Release Notes

v1.0.0 - initial release

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