Diet is crucial in the fight to meet climate change targets

Government report recommends overhaul of land use and huge reductions in CO2 emission

cows

 

The Department for Energy and Climate Change have published a report on their Global Calculator, a model which sets out what the ‘average lifestyle’ would need to be to meet climate change targets in 2050.

The project was based on a question:

“Is it physically possible to meet our climate targets and ensure everyone has good living standards by 2050?”

This is defined as all ten billion people in the world eating well, travelling more and living in more comfortable homes, whilst simultaneously ‘reducing emissions to a level consistent with a 50 per cent chance of 2°C warming’.

If this is to be achieved, the report says, the amount of CO2 emitted globally per unit of electricity needs to fall by at least 90 per cent by 2050. The proportion of people who heat their homes using other sources – electric or zero carbon – should rise to 25 to 50 per cent globally by 2050.

It was calculated that fossil fuel use must fall from being 82 per cent of our primary energy supply today to 40 per cent by 2050, with a sharp fall in coal demand required.

As well as transforming technology, there needs to be a change in how we use land resources, which will have a significant impact on people’s diets. In particular, the report concludes, we must make use of forests as a valuable carbon sink, and protect and expand them globally by five to 15 per cent.

In conjunction with this, the report recommends that people change their eating habits in order to maximise the land area required to produce food. It says that switching from beef consumption towards pork, poultry, vegetables and grains will significantly improve land use:

“Currently an area the size of a football pitch can be used to produce 250kg of beef, 1,000kg of poultry (both fed on grains and residues) or 15,000 of fruit and vegetables. 

“In 2050, if everyone switched to the healthy diet as recommended by the World Health Organisation  (2,100 calories on average, of which 160 calories is meat), this could save up to 15 GtCO2e in 205011 as the freed up land is used for forest or bioenergy.”

This would entail a big overhaul of lifestyle for many people, and worrying changes for farmers. It is for this reason that the report emphasises the importance of strong leadership from businesses, civil society and politicians, in the run up to the UN convention in December of this year.

26 Responses to “Diet is crucial in the fight to meet climate change targets”

  1. ReduceGHGs

    Sure, we need to change our diets in the long run. To change course now we need new laws and policies. The problem is that more than half the members of the U.S. Congress are NOT on board with any plan to reduce global emissions. They are on record saying that humans are not the cause of global warming despite what our respected scientific institutions have been telling us. They reject the reality and put our future generations at risk.
    More of us, from all corners, need to confront them and work to see them replaced with law makers willing to face and deal with the reality.
    Please join the efforts.
    ExhaustingHabitability(dot)org

  2. damon

    We’re still at an early stage of knowing how to discuss this properly.
    At the moment the green/left arguments like the one in the OP and the comment by ”ReduceGHGs” (to me) just sound really annoying.
    And I’ve been practically living on vegetarian ”rice and curry” for months now out in south Asia.
    Because its so much cheaper and I don’t like the look of the way they handle meat here.
    I know its the best diet I ever normally eat.

  3. CB

    “we need to change our diets in the long run”

    I don’t know if that’s true!

    …if you wanted to add “to maintain a healthy population”, or “to feed the number of people currently on the planet” it certainly would be, but in terms of climate change, all the food we eat is essentially carbon-neutral, including cows.

    Going vegetarian is one of the easiest and most effective ways for an individual to reduce the size of her ecological footprint, of course, but I think it’s very important to maintain a distinction between biological carbon and fossil carbon.

    A system which runs off the former can be completely sustainable.

    A system which runs off the latter most certainly cannot.

  4. CB

    “the green/left arguments like the one in the OP and the comment by ”ReduceGHGs” (to me) just sound really annoying.”

    lol! His argument wasn’t a green/left argument, it was a simple statement of fact!

    Almost the entirety of the Republican party in the USA is deeply delusional and under the impression it’s possible to make the laws of physics disappear simply by shouting “NO!”

    Step one in addressing climate change is curing these people of their mental illness or removing them from office.

    Crazy people do not make good leaders.

  5. damon

    The USA has a population of about 318 million.
    China has about a billion more.

  6. CB

    “The USA has a population of about 318 million. China has about a billion more”

    Sure!

    What’s your point?

    Flip your keyboard over and read me the words after “Made in” to find out who’s funding China’s suicidal ecological destruction.

  7. ReduceGHGs

    Do you have a source that says cows are “carbon-neutral” because I don’t believe you’re correct.

    Google: Livestock and Climate Change | Worldwatch Institute

    “”The environmental impact of the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food has been vastly underestimated, and in fact accounts for at least half of all human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs), according to Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, co-authors of “Livestock and Climate Change”.””

  8. damon

    So you think that we have to stop everyone in the world owning a computer and a fridge?
    They are the very things people want. Just go and look at poorer Asian countries. The people are really keen on acquiring new stuff. There desire to consume is as big as people in the West’s is.
    It’s going to be really hard to push for any meaningful reductions in the things that cause global warming, anytime soon imo. The trend is for every part of the world to want to emulate the consuming West.
    Or as we see with the migrations across Africa and the Mediterranean, to forget about trying to get the good life in their own country, but go directly to the West, invited or not.

  9. CB

    “Do you have a source that says cows are “carbon-neutral” “

    Sure. Cows are made of plants and plants are made of air:

    “Plants are made primarily of cellulose (C6H10O5) with a little nitrogen. The carbon comes from atmospheric CO2”

    epod.usra.edu/blog/2009/10/plants-a-curious-form-of-air.html

    Any carbon emitted by cows is matched precisely by the carbon pulled down by the plants they eat.

    The net carbon produced by animal agriculture comes from the use of fossil fuels and the clearing of land. Absent these 2 factors, it’s completely carbon neutral. Ignorance of the carbon cycle is responsible for a surprising amount of misinformation out there.

  10. Guest

    Be happy, the UK’s poor can afford less food. Your completely unaffordable 2,100 calories for them…

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    Then I’d be focusing on synthetic meat research, if I were you. Oh, and pushing nuclear power.

  12. Guest

    No surprise you take every chance to lash out at the Other

  13. ReduceGHGs

    Your source did NOT confirm that eating cows is carbon neutral and that’s because it isn’t. It said…
    “”…the combustion of biofuels is considered “carbon neutral.”””

    I recommend some research. The following statement I provided earlier is well known.

    “The environmental impact of the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food has been vastly underestimated, and in fact accounts for at least half of all human-caused greenhouse gases.”

    And the following is on my website (Responsibility page) with a link to the source.

    “According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water. A life-cycle analysis conducted by EWG that took into account the production and distribution of 20 common agricultural products found that red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.”

    Enjoy learning.
    ExhaustingHabitability(dot)org

  14. damon

    Only in your febrile imagination Leon.
    Why shouldn’t people in poor countries have what we have in the developed West?
    You seem to argue on the one hand that a country like Britain should be able to take millions of poor immigrants who want a more consumerist lifestyle, and then we’re told that actually we should actually be living like frugal peasants to save the planet.

    I told you already, my favourite people on earth are Sri Lankans – I’m actually in a Tamil town right now.
    Lovely people, but their infrastructure is very poor. And their buses, old and dangerous.
    I just took a 100km ride on one this morning, and people deserve better.
    This country should be as developed as California.

  15. zlop

    By killing cows and planting a tree, yes, we can slow the climate.
    “Climate Change and How to Slow It Down – Marius Vaitkevičius”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys4ycSfr2S8

  16. sarntcrip

    DON’T BLAME THE COWS THEY WERE HERE LONG BEFORE CLIMATE CHANGE BUT
    BLOCK FRACKING WITH PEOPLE POWER

  17. sarntcrip

    SIMPLY A GOVT. DIVERSION FROM FRACKING UNDER YOUR HOUSE

  18. CB

    Biofuels are carbon neutral!

    Anything that comes from the biosphere is all essentially carbon-neutral, including cows.

    I suspect your source is double-counting the carbon that is generated by animal agriculture, but I’m not sure. It’s actually surprisingly common. There was a study on corn ethanol that came out a few months ago that came to precisely the wrong conclusion because of a failure to understand how the short carbon cycle works.

    The other ecological impacts of animal agriculture are not in dispute, nor is it in dispute that with our current system, animal agriculture requires the burning of more fossil fuels than plant agriculture.

    …which is why if someone wants to make a positive change now, becoming vegetarian is actually a very effective way to do that.

  19. CB

    “So you think that we have to stop everyone in the world owning a computer and a fridge?”

    No.

    The reason our system is dangerous has to do with its historical development, not any physical impediment.

    Nobody has to burn fossils to lead a comfortable lifestyle.

    That’s pretend.

  20. ReduceGHGs

    “Anything”? Really? Coal comes from the biosphere and burning it at rates anywhere near what we do now is NOT “carbon-neutral”.

    And as for cow, again, … “A life-cycle analysis conducted by EWG that took into account the production and distribution of 20 common agricultural products found that red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.”

  21. CB

    “Coal comes from the biosphere”

    No. Coal comes from the ground. The carbon in coal hasn’t been in the biosphere for hundreds of millions of years.

    I don’t know what study you’re pointing to, but I’m pretty sure they’re double-counting carbon.

    You can burn a million tons of agricultural waste and produce a whole heap-load of carbon, right?

    …but you can’t simply compare that to the carbon produced by fossil fuels because 100% of it came from the sky during the growing season. It’s 100% carbon neutral from year to year. The amount of carbon in the sky doesn’t change.

    Do you understand now?

  22. damon

    I just can’t see anything changing enough in the time frame to make the difference to stop this two degrees of warming or whatever.
    How are great cities like Bangkok to become so different so quickly.
    How do you stop Colombo becoming as big as Bangkok or like a little Tokyo?
    What should happen to the tuk tuks?
    They’re probably terribly polluting, but people use them instead of owning cars and they employ large numbers of poor people.

  23. ReduceGHGs

    I’ll start and end with your first sentence.
    The biosphere includes the ground.

    Have a good one!

  24. CB

    “The biosphere includes the ground”

    The top layer, sure! Down where coal is buried, very little can survive. Coal is part of the long carbon cycle. Cows are part of the short carbon cycle.

    It’s actually critically important to understand the difference between the short and long carbon cycles, because disrupting the long carbon cycle is actually why we find ourselves in the mess we’re in and interrupting the short carbon cycle is one of the few proven ways we have to actually fix the problem.

    This guy is making coal from sky carbon:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXMUmby8PpU

  25. CB

    “I just can’t see anything changing enough in the time frame to make the difference”

    The timeframe is hundreds of years. Truly catastrophic changes are coming much sooner than that, of course, but the system isn’t going to come back into balance for almost a thousand years… even if we disappeared tomorrow.

    “How do you stop Colombo becoming as big as Bangkok or like a little Tokyo?”

    Educating women.

    “What should happen to the tuk tuks?”

    They’ll be replaced by cleaner, cheaper, more efficient electric tuk tuks.

    None of that is outside the realm of possibility.

  26. Mukkinese

    The idea that a majority of people can be persuaded to give up meat, even if only partially, is one of the more loony ones coming from the climate lobby.

    I am a believer, climate change is happening, human activity is certainly a factor. But the idea that any kind of “prohibition on meat” can be made to work is mad fantasising.

    Stop the holier than thou preaching and start looking at ideas that will work…

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