Yesterday (8th August) the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new Special Report on Climate Change and Land. This explores the ways in which land is under increasing pressure, due to the ever-growing population and unsustainable land use, with climate change adding to these pressures. In addition, it reports on the strategies that can provide solutions to keeping global warming well below 2oC and prevent a climate crisis.
We welcome this new report as it highlights the importance of climate change’s forgotten sector: our diets.
Land is a critical resource
The report, prepared by 107 experts from 52 countries, looks at land degradation and desertification, global food security, and their interactions with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, therefore, climate change. It stresses that, if we are to meet the Paris Agreement climate targets, we must rapidly change course on land use and farming practices, and move to diets that produce much lower GHG emissions. This will necessitate a significant reduction in meat and dairy consumption.
“Some dietary choices require more land and water and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. “Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.”
The “heat” around factory farming
Studies show that meat and dairy products generate substantially more GHG emissions per unit of nutrition produced than non-animal foods.
Although cattle are responsible for methane emissions, it’s important to note that most pigs and chickens are farmed industrially and are fed on cereals such as wheat and maize. The manufacture and application of the chemical fertilisers used to grow these crops result in substantial emissions of CO2 and nitrous oxide which is the most aggressive greenhouse gas. Soy is a major component of industrial livestock’s feed; the huge demand for soy is a key factor driving deforestation which releases stored carbon into the atmosphere and results in massive loss of wildlife habitats and biodiversity.
“The IPCC new special report presents more evidence that a reduction in meat and dairy consumption is not only essential if we are to meet the climate targets but would also have many other benefits” said Peter Stevenson, our Chief Policy Advisor. “It would improve health, as high consumption of red and processed meat contributes to heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and diabetes. It would also result in reduced use of land, water and energy, and lower use of pesticides and nitrogen fertilisers. Finally, it would enable restoration of soils and peatland as well as new afforestation, all of which are identified by the report as essential to combat climate change”.
From evidence to action
The IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land is the latest in a series of reports by highly respected bodies highlighting these key issues. We need to see movement from official reports to actions to mitigate climate change.
Nick Palmer, our Head of Compassion in World Farming, UK said: “We now need Government action! Britain should take the lead in calling for a global agreement to move away from high-meat diets and industrial agriculture in order to tackle the crises of climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss.”
Find what you can do to promote more sustainable food systems and how to switch to a higher quality and higher welfare diet.