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UN Climate Change Report Further Confirms Meat Production Has ‘Disproportionate Impact’ On Emissions

A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of the United Nations, further confirms how meat consumption and production is fueling climate disruption.

“Meat—sometimes specified as ruminant meat (mainly beef)—was consistently identified as the single food with the greatest impact on the environment, most often in terms of GHG [greenhouse] emissions and/or land use per unit commodity,” the report states.

The IPCC’s report covered climate change and land, including the following issues: desertification, land degradation, land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluctuations in ecosystems.

It was commissioned in April 2016, and the “author team” that produced the report consisted of 107 experts from 52 countries.

As the report indicates, “The emissions intensities of red meat mean that its production has a disproportionate impact on total emissions. For example, in the U.S. four percent of food sold (by weight) is beef, which accounts for 36 percent of food-related emissions.”

“This report confirms what we’ve known for a decade or more: Our industrial agricultural system is bad for consumers, bad for family farmers, and bad for our climate,” Wenonah Hauter, the executive director for Food and Water Watch, declared. “We need to reform our agricultural system by ending the stranglehold a handful of multinational corporations have over our vast food economy in America.”

According to the report, “The implications of dietary choice can have severe consequences for land.”

If every country adopted the United Kingdom’s 2011 average diet and meat consumption, it would require 95 percent of “global habitable land.” And, if every country adopted the average U.S. diet (in 2011), 178 percent of global would be needed.

“All estimates agree that cattle are the main source of global livestock emissions (65–77%),” the report adds. “Livestock in low and middle-income countries contribute 70 percent of the emissions from ruminants and 53 percent from 30 monogastric livestock (animals without ruminant digestion processes such as sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry), and these are expected to increase as demand for livestock products increases.”

The report mentions, “Within the food system, during the period 2007-2016, the major sources of emissions from the supply side were agricultural production.” It highlighted crop and livestock activities and warned that without intervention rates of emissions from this production are “likely to increase by about 30 percent to 40 percent by 2050, due to increasing demand based on population and income growth and dietary change.

Greenpeace in its analysis, “Twenty-three percent of greenhouse gas emissions stem from agriculture and land use.

The food system as a whole is responsible for up to 37 percent of total human greenhouse gas emissions. Higher consumption of meat and vegetable oils, as well as food waste and loss are associated with increased emissions.

“Since 1961, the consumption of meat has more than doubled, while emissions of methane from cattle and manure (a gas with 28 times more global warming potential than CO2) have increased by 1.7 times in the same period,” according to Greenpeace.

Currently, around 25 to 30 percent of food is lost or wasted.

The human population is projected to increase to 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Pressures ranging from urbanization to economic growth are expected to affect land management, which must be addressed in order to stem the effect of climate disruption.

Yet, what the report makes clear is that adopting a diet that eliminates meat or consists of a small amount of meat will help mitigate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. It will help curtail the degradation of land and ensure more than 100 million people are able to still have food security in 2050.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."