Global meat consumption must fall to curb global warming, reduce growing strains on land and water and improve food security, health and biodiversity, a United Nations report on the effects of climate change said.
Although the report stopped short of explicitly advocating going meat free, it called for big changes to farming and eating habits to limit the impact of population growth and changing consumption patterns on stretched land and water resources.
Plant-based foods and sustainable animal-sourced food could free up several million square kilometers of land by 2050 and cut 0.7-8.0 gigatonnes a year of carbon dioxide equivalent, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said.
“There are certain kinds of diets that have a lower carbon footprint and put less pressure on land,” Jim Skea, professor at London’s Imperial College, said yesterday.
The IPCC met this week in Geneva, Switzerland to finalize its report which should help to guide governments meeting this year in Chile on ways to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“The IPCC does not recommend people’s diets … Dietary choices are very often shaped or influenced by local production practices and cultural habits,” Skea, who is one of the report’s authors, told reporters in Geneva.
Land can be both a source and sink of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming, and better land management can help to tackle climate change, the IPCC said. But it is not the only solution and cutting emissions from all sectors is essential to quickly curtail global warming.
“The window for making these changes is closing fast. If there is further delay in reducing emissions, we will miss the opportunity to successfully manage the climate change transition in the land sector,” it said. Since the pre-industrial era, land surface air temperature has risen by 1.53 degrees Celsius, twice as much as the global average temperature (0.87C), causing more heatwaves, droughts and heavy rain, as well as land degradation and desertification.