Concerned about climate change? Eating less meat and dairy is a powerful way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues in the world today. A warming planet has implications on the well-being of humans and animals alike.
In recognition of this fact, the 2015 Paris Agreement was ratified, whereby countries committed to goals that would substantially reduce the risks and impacts of climate change:
- Keeping the long-term global average temperature increase to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.
- Pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C.
To help achieve these goals, one of most impactful things that we can do as individuals to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, is to eat less meat.
Agriculture, like many human activities, requires resources such as land, fuel and water. However, compared to other forms of agriculture, raising animals for food is an inefficient way to produce food since resources such as land and water must be used to house billions of animals and produce crops to feed them. And when we look at the massive scale of intensive animal agriculture (aka factory farming), the impacts become significant and unsustainable; fueling climate change, polluting landscapes and waterways, and wastefully using precious land resources. In fact, experts predict that without substantial reductions in global meat consumption, agriculture will consume the entire world’s carbon budget necessary for keeping global temperature rises under 2°C by 2050.
In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced a report looking at land use, food security and greenhouse gas emissions. The report describes plant-based diets as a “major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change” ― and includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.
“We don’t want to tell people what to eat,” says Hans-Otto Pörtner, an ecologist who co-chairs the IPCC’s working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. “But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.”
What the report doesn’t discuss is the animal welfare implications of meat-centric diet. Producing animal protein (meat, dairy and eggs) at the current level can only be achieved by using intensive methods where animals are often crowded together in sheds or barns, bred for high production and their natural behaviours are denied. A substantial reduction in animal protein consumption across the globe would free up land and other resources, making room for higher welfare, more sustainable production systems, that would benefit both the animals and the planet.
The following chart is from the paper and illustrates the difference in amount of greenhouse gas emissions from different food types.
Source: J. Poore, T. Nemecek. “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers”. Science 01 Jun 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 987-992