UN recommends eating a plant-based diet to fight climate change

A dead caiman burnt in the fires in the Pantanal, animal news
A dead caiman burnt in the fires in the Pantanal, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, August 31, 2020. Reuters/Amanda Perobelli

The most important shift people can make to fight climate change is to adopt a plant-based diet, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said on Monday.

Despite climate change warnings since 1990, global emissions have continued to rise in the last decade, reaching their highest point in history. At this point, only severe emissions cuts can turn things around, the IPCC report said.

The report addressed what consumers can do in their daily life to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. If consumers would avoid airplanes, eat no meat, and insulate their homes, they could make a considerable difference in halting global warming.

But governments need to step up to make it easier for consumers to make these changes.

“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviours can result in a 40-70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, co-chair of the IPCC working group that produced the 3,000-page report.

Car-free living, plant-based diets, low-carbon sources of electricity and heating at home and local holiday plans can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to nine tonnes of CO2 equivalent, the IPCC said.

But there also needs to be a shift in culture and social norms, business investment, political drivers from institutions, and changes in
infrastructure, the IPCC added.

“We left COP26 in Glasgow with a naive optimism, based on new promises and commitments,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said with the report’s release.

“But current climate pledges would (still) mean a 14% increase in emissions. And most major emitters are not taking the steps needed to fulfill even these inadequate promises,” he added. Leading scientists made it very clear that governments are not doing enough, while emissions are the highest in human history.

“As a global animal welfare organization, we are at the forefront of the debate on the impact livestock has on the environment,” Josef Pfabigan, CEO of animal welfare organization Four Paws said in a statement. “The climate crisis can only be tackled together with governments and the food industry.”

“A decrease in the numbers of livestock and raising the keeping standards for farm animals is crucial in many ways. It instantly cuts emissions, halts deforestation and makes land now used for feed production available for nature restoration,” Pfabigan said.

“A change in diet is key. Reducing meat and dairy consumption contributes to personal health and wellbeing and is also a more climate-friendly and sustainable choice,” he added.

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