Diet is crucial in the fight to meet climate change targets

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


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.

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