If everyone ate steaks and dairy the way Brazilians and Americans do, we would need an extra five planets to feed the world. The first report to compare the carbon emissions from food consumption in the Group of Twenty (G20) nations was released on Thursday.
Among the world’s top economies, only the carbon ‘food-prints’ per person in India and Indonesia are low enough to ensure the Paris climate target of stopping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the Diet for a Better Future report.
The other G20 countries like the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Australia need to make adjustments to their national diet plan and promote food recommendations that are proven to be better for health and the environment.
The report’s biggest conclusion is ‘The power is on our plates’. Choosing healthy and sustainable food is one of the single most powerful actions that an individual can take to combat climate change.
G20 countries can adjust their National Dietary Guidelines (NDG) to create a better world. Some countries have already started promoting a more plant-based diet. But the report emphasized that nations have to take exponential action in promoting a healthy flexitarian diet to achieve the Paris Agreement.
Shifting toward healthier diets rich in legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and light on dairy and meats, especially beef and lamb, could save the planet.
Some people are ruining the planet for the rest
Producing food for Earth’s 7.7 billion people is responsible for a quarter of the global carbon emissions that drive climate change.
About 40 percent of that comes from animal farming and food waste, with the rest generated mostly by rice production, fertilizer use, land conversion and deforestation to accommodate commercial crops.
“Currently, individuals in a handful of countries are eating way too much of the wrong foods at the expense of the rest of the world,” Brent Loken, global food lead scientist at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and lead author of the report, said.
The problem of waste is concentrated in wealthy nations, Loken said. “It’s an issue mainly because rich people throw away too much food.”
“The current pandemic has highlighted just how broken our food system is,” Loken added. “The food that we eat and how we produce it are also key drivers in the emergence of deadly viruses such as the one that leads to COVID-19.”
Not ready for major impacts of climate change
“The weakness of national dietary guidelines suggest that governments are failing to recognize the combined impact of the food system on both public health and the environment,” said Alan Dangour, director of the Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health, commenting on the report.
The world’s nations are “dangerously ill-prepared for the major impacts that are forecast under future climate change,” he added.