It's official: eating less meat is necessary to prevent dangerous climate change

By : Sue Dibb
Jan 30, 2015

A new report published by the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) says reducing our consumption of meat per person is necessary if Britain is to emit only its fair share of global greenhouse gases. The findings come from DECC’s Global Calculator launched this week which calculates the “global average lifestyle” consistent with preventing a dangerous rise in temperatures. 

Eating Better welcomes the recognition of the importance of what we eat in tackling dangerous climate change, as this is often overlooked compared to energy and transport. It is also good to see that the report recognises the benefits for health – as well as climate change – of cutting back on meat consumption and eating more vegetables.

The report calculates that if everyone switched to a healthy daily diet as recommended by the World Health Organisations of 2,100 calories, of which only 160 calories are from meat, this would save 15 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2050 – equivalent to around a third of total global GHG emissions in 2011.

The report illustrates just how severe the impacts of livestock production are for the climate, and how increasing demand for meat is driving deforestation. Over the last 10 years, it reports almost 200 million hectares of native forest has been cut down, partly driven by increased demand for agricultural land. Total demand for food could rise by around 45% by 2050 as population and wealth increase, so the deforestation trend is at risk of continuing. But to protect our climate, we should in fact be expanding our forest area by 5-15% by 2050, because forests act as carbon sinks (i.e. they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in the trees and soil).

It is calculated that switching away from beef consumption, towards more poultry, pork, vegetables and grains can also significantly reduce the amount of land required to produce food. For example, an area the size of a football pitch can currently be used to produce 250 kg of beef, 1,000 kg of poultry (both fed on grains and residues) or 15,000 kg of fruit and vegetables.

Eating Better recommends the reduction of all types of meat. From a climate change perspective, all meat has a high environmental impact. The production of ruminant meat (beef and lamb) has a higher direct impact than that of non-ruminant meat (pork and chicken). However, pork and poultry production are typically reliant on protein-rich feeds provided by imported soy, which has high indirect emissions as a result of land use change including deforestation in South America.

As the report concludes, Eating Better agrees that strong leadership from businesses, civil society and politicians is essential to ensure these changes are rolled out, and to agree an ambitious global deal in the December 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. 

The report: Prosperous living for the world in 2050: insights from the global calculator is available here


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