UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy-Free Diet

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by
The Guardian/UK

UN Urges Global Move to Meat and Dairy-Free Diet

Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says

by
Felicity Carus

An cattle ranch in Mato Grosso, Brazil. The UN says agriculture is on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth. (Photograph: HO/Reuters)

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from
hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report
said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted
9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and
dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment
Programme's (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It
says: "Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase
substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal
products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives:
people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be
possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal
products."

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the
report, said: "Animal products cause more damage than [producing]
construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals.
Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil
fuels."

The recommendation follows advice
last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord
Nicholas Stern
, former adviser to the Labour government on the
economics of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN's
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb
carbon emissions
.

The panel of experts ranked products,
resources, economic activities and transport according to their
environmental impacts. Agriculture was on a par with fossil fuel
consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth,
they said.

Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental
scientist who co-chaired the panel, said: "Rising affluence is
triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products - livestock
now consumes much of the world's crops and by inference a great deal of
freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides."

Both energy and
agriculture need to be "decoupled" from economic growth because
environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the
report found.

Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general
and executive director of the UNEP, said: "Decoupling growth from
environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments
in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising
consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty
alleviation."

The panel, which drew on numerous studies
including the Millennium
ecosystem assessment
, cites the following pressures on the
environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate
change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in
fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other
resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead
exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate
matter.

Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products,
accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land
use and 19% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, says the report,
which has been launched to coincide with UN World Environment day on
Saturday.

Last year the UN's Food and Agriculture
Organisation said that food production would have to increase globally
by 70% by 2050
to feed the world's surging population. The panel
says that efficiency gains in agriculture will be overwhelmed by the
expected population growth.

Prof Hertwich, who is also the
director of the industrial ecology programme at the Norwegian University
of Science and Technology, said that developing countries – where much
of this population growth will take place – must not follow the western
world's pattern of increasing consumption: "Developing countries should
not follow our model. But it's up to us to develop the technologies in,
say, renewable energy or irrigation methods."

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