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High meat consumption major driver of climate change, says report

The report notes that livestock sector accounts for around 15% of total global emissions, and it equals to the emissions from all the vehicles in the world


Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: The global appetite for meat is so high that it is has turned out to be a major cause for climate change. The per capita consumption of meat is at critical levels in developed countries and unless this trend changes, the world cannot avoid climate change, says a new reported released by London-based Chatham House, an independent policy institute, on Tuesday.

The report ‘Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption’ noted that meat is a major driver of climate change as livestock sector accounts for around 15% of the total global emissions, and it equals to the emissions from all the vehicles in the world.

The report suggested governments to expand food choice and make it easier for people to shift their purchasing behaviour—consciously or automatically—through improved availability and promotion of non-meat alternatives like a wider choice of vegetarian or low-meat options among pre-prepared meals in retail environments (greater prominence of vegetarian options in cafeterias).

“Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius,” the report said. A shift to healthier patterns of meat-eating could bring a quarter of the emissions reductions needed to keep the world below the danger level.

Governments are the only actors with the necessary resources and capacities to redirect diets at scale towards more sustainable, plant-based sources of protein, said the report, adding that the governments are trapped in a cycle of inertia as they fear the repercussions of intervention.

The report argued that although reducing “meat and dairy” consumption is far from straightforward, it is neither an insurmountable task nor more challenging than other climate imperatives, such as decarbonizing power, industry and transport.

It stated that in the developed world, per capita demand for meat has reached a plateau, but at excessive levels and among industrialized countries, the average person consumes around twice as much as experts deem healthy. In the US, the multiple is nearly three times.

“This is not sustainable. A growing global population cannot converge on developed-country levels of meat consumption without huge social and environmental cost. Overconsumption of animal products, in particular processed meat, is associated with obesity and an increased risk of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and certain types of cancer,” said the report.

It also explained that livestock production is often a result of “a highly inefficient use of scarce land and water” and is also a principal driver of deforestation, habitat destruction and species loss.

The report that comes days ahead of the Paris Climate Change Summit said a significant gap remains between the emissions reductions countries have proposed and what is required for a decent chance of keeping temperature rise below 2°C.

“Governments need credible strategies to close the gap, and reducing meat consumption is an obvious one. Worldwide adoption of a healthy diet would generate over a quarter of the emission reductions needed by 2050. There is therefore a compelling case for shifting diets, and above all for addressing meat consumption,” the report said.

It said governments overestimate the risk of public backlash in advocating sustainable meat consumption.

Calling for a national debate about over-consumption of meat to increase public awareness about its problems, the report said strategies should be tailored to national contexts as attitudes to meat and climate change vary considerably by country and are shaped by a variety of political, social and cultural factors and any intervention strategy, therefore, must be sensitive to these factors.

“It is time for governments to revisit assumptions that reducing meat consumption is too difficult or too risky. Government capacity to influence diets is expanding and public are becoming increasingly accepting of the role of government in this area. Including meat in such efforts would help deliver on the public health agenda while also meeting environmental objectives,” it added.

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