Environment

Plant-Based Diets can Help Fight Climate Change, says UN body

IPCC recommends Reduction in Animal Product Consumption

One hundred and seven scientists working on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have in a major report claimed that the West’s high consumption of meat and dairy is a major factor in climate change. Whilst the IPCC has stopped short of telling us all to go vegan, the implication is clear: at the very least we need to cut down our meat consumption. 

The report discussed in Geneva pointed to the need for greater care to be taken in land use. A more efficient policy would store more of humans’ carbon emissions. 

Changing to plant-based diets is an obvious first step

“We’re not telling people to stop eating meat. In some places, people have no other choice. But it’s obvious that in the West we’re eating far too much,” said Aberdeen University’s Professor Pete Smith.

Maybe not. But the report makes it quite clear that “the consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report also emphasised that far too much food is wasted in the world, and also called for the end to soil damage and the process of desertification. 

Ultimately the report warns that if the way that the world produces food and manages land is not changed, then no amount of tinkering with carbon emissions from power plants, factories and cars will make any real difference to a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions. 

Intensive agriculture is leading to soil erosion and has reduced the organic materials in the earth. Half of all methane emissions, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields. Deforestation has led to additional levels of carbon emissions. The report makes it clear that land degradation will get worse with climate change. In short, the world’s land will have to be managed far more sustainably. 

The need is increasingly urgent. It is not as though well-informed citizens of the world have not already had notice of these issues. As the earth’s population moves inexorably towards a projected figure of 9.8 billion people in 2050, the world will need to produce a lot more food. The estimate is that 56 per cent more food will be needed to feed the world compared to 2010.

Imagine if meat and dairy consumption did rise in line with future food needs. The result would be that an area twice the size of India would need to be converted to agriculture.

The quicker the shift in agricultural production is made, the better.

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Nicholas Orosz

Nicholas is a former City solicitor and Cambridge graduate. He has a long-standing interest in health & nutrition, the environmental movement, green politics & digital publishing. He has always loved crafting words. His transition to a vegan perspective has been gradual and an ongoing process of self-discovery. Contact: nicholas@vegansbethechange.com
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