Could cutting meat from our diets bridge a post-Paris ’emissions gap’?

A dietary change that relieves the demand for animal protein could play an instrumental role in plugging the post-Paris emissions gap, according to a new report from independent policy institute Chatham House.

The ‘Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption’ report highlights that the livestock sector is currently accountable for around 15% of the global carbon emissions –equivalent to worldwide tailpipe emissions from cars. Yet the report argues that a switch in dietary behaviour could create yearly emissions savings of six gigatonnes of CO2e.

The report states: “Strategies to effect dietary change and to address unsustainable meat production and consumption could form a core component of the post-2015 development agenda.

“As the international community moves to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), policy-makers should capitalize on this moment of change and emphasize the importance of a global reduction in meat consumption to fostering sustainable, equitable resource use across all sectors.”

Milking it

The report, which surveyed public attitudes in 12 countries including the UK, forecasts a 76% increase in the global consumption of meat by 2050. Currently a ‘protein transition’ is playing out across countries with improving economies.

The trajectory of meat and dairy consumption will lead to the agricultural sector supplying 20 of the 23 gigatonne (Gt) annual limit for emission in 2050, leaving just 3 GtCO2e for the rest of the global economy.

According to the report, a switch away from meat and dairy intensive eating habits could halt the current 7.1 gigatonnes of GHG emissions that arise from the livestock sector annually, while also reducing alarming long-term ramifications.

Before and after

The report recommends using governments as catalysts to bring about a global, societal behaviour change in how we consume food. Without government intervention the report suggests that there is little incentive for businesses to reduce supply despite the fact that global overconsumption will create increasing costs for society and the environment.

The report argues an increased understanding of the link between livestock and climate change by both government and consumers will create a willingness to reduce consumption. This is already a complex area due to pasture-fed beef creating more emissions than the harsher livestock standards from intensively reared beef.

Another recommendation is the implementation of government policies that place carbon taxes on livestock, while also placing an emissions responsibility on an entire supply chain rather than just operations inside national borders. Plant base alternatives and lab grown meat are also being developed.

The report suggests that plant-based alternatives are needed to change purchasing behaviour with possible taxes on carbon heavy foods and collaborations with food distributors needed to create a behavioural change.

Climate hungry

In the light of the World Resources Institute (WRI) proclamation that around five billion people are expected to be subjected to water stress by 2050, the fact that indirectly the production of animals accounts for around 27% of global consumption and pollution of freshwater resources, may be enough evidence to bring about a behavioural change; one which is already being introduced through ‘Climatarians’.

Last week, conservation charity WWF has teamed up with food services provider Sodexo to launch a new range of 10 ‘sustainable’ meals that are designed to be nutritious and low-carbon with responsibly sourced ingredients.

Diet Climate Change

Matt Mace

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