World leaders ‘reckless for ignoring how meat and dairy accelerate climate crisis’

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Clearing land to grow animal feed is a leading cause of deforestation  (AFP via Getty Images)
Clearing land to grow animal feed is a leading cause of deforestation (AFP via Getty Images)

Government leaders are being “reckless and irresponsible” in ignoring the livestock sector’s effect on the climate, an experts’ report is warning.

Officials worldwide are “terrified of taking on the powerful vested interests that drive expanding global consumption of meat and dairy”, according to the Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) charity, which is releasing its report to the Cop26 talks.

The document says global meat and dairy consumption must be dramatically slashed to avert a climate catastrophe.

But the central role that food and agriculture play in the crisis “appears to be virtually overlooked”, it claims, and that it is “breaking the taboo”.

Global food systems are responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and three-quarters of agricultural emissions are from livestock, the report finds, based on scientific studies and figures from the World Health Organisation and UN, among others.

Emissions from animal farming are on a par with those emitted by the entire global transportation sector, previous Greenpeace analysis has found.

The organisers of Cop26 were this week criticised for serving a menu comprised of mostly meat, dairy and fish, with plant-based items accounting for less than half of the delegates’ menu.

The report, Breaking the Taboo: Why Diets Must Change to Tackle Climate Emergency, argues that governments must accept that radical dietary shifts can play a significant part in meeting the Paris Agreement target of limiting Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5C.

“Energy, fossil fuels, transport and industry tend to dominate climate discussions and actions. The food system receives much less attention, even though it generates 26-37 per cent of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions,” the report says.

“It is reckless and irresponsible for governments to continue to ignore the livestock sector’s impact on climate change and the ability of dietary shifts to play a significant part in meeting the Paris Agreement targets,” it adds.

The UK Climate Change Committee has called for “a 20 per cent shift away from all meat by 2030, rising to 35 per cent by 2050, and a 20 per cent shift from dairy products by 2030”.

World-leading scientists have previously suggested a tax on meat to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises.

Growing vast amounts of crops to use as animal feed causes deforestation and the release of carbon dioxide.

Earlier this week, leaders promised to stop deforestation by 2030. Scientists agree that agriculture is the most common cause.

Another charity, Humane Society International, has alsoe called on world leaders to consider animal agriculture in climate policies and targets.

The CiWF paper also sets out how the manufacture and spread of fertilisers for the crops causes emissions of carbon and nitrous oxide - the most aggressive greenhouse gas.

Report author and CiWF chief policy adviser Peter Stevenson said: “The central role that food and agriculture plays in the climate crisis has been virtually overlooked by world leaders.

“Today we’re breaking the taboo and saying what has to be said – that livestock production is a major driver of the climate crisis.

“Without an urgent and dramatic global reduction in meat and dairy consumption we will be unable to meet the Paris Agreement targets needed to avert a climate catastrophe.

“Are we really prepared to risk destroying the planet simply because we cannot curb our excessive consumption of meat and dairy?

“World leaders must seize the opportunity of ‘nature day’ on Saturday to commit to taking urgent action to reverse this calamitous path.”

Lower meat consumption would help feed the growing world population, because more crops would be used for direct human consumption, the report says.

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