Scientists have warned that addressing climate change would require the peaking of production of livestock within the next decade.
Scientists have already identified animal agriculture to be an important and fast-growing source of global greenhouse gas emissions and therefore scientists are urging governments of all countries, barring those that are the poorest, to work out a date for “peak meat”.
While cattle raising results in destruction of forests to create pasture and grow fodder for the animals for their intensive feeding, rearing cattle and sheep also emit large amounts of methane in to the atmosphere.
In order to limit global heating to 1.5C, it would be necessary to remove amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, agree the world’s scientists. They have also calculated that while over 80 per cent of farmland is used for livestock, the resultant overall calories upon consumption is only about 18 per cent of the total calories consumed.
Land would be freed up and be returned to natural forest id it was possible to reduce meat and dairy consumption and instead eating plant-based diets. This is currently the best option available for storing large amounts of carbon, researchers say.
However, the researchers also claim that bringing in such changes in the global agricultural system will only result in addressing one part of the problem as more urgent steps needs to be taken on other fronts as well. The major measure is cutting down on fossil fuel use and taking actions in some of the other sectors such as transportation.
Countries were urged by the researcher to “declare a timeframe for peak livestock”, following which governments need to ensure that there would not be an increase in production after that “peak”, said the researchers in a letter to the Lancet Planetary Health journal.
Negotiators are at a UN climate summit in Madrid, hoping to make progress towards ambitious new climate pledges in 2020.
“Countries should be looking for peak livestock within the next 10 years,” said Helen Harwatt, a fellow at Harvard Law School in the US and lead author of the letter. “This is because we need steep and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, as we are reaching dangerous temperature tipping points.”
Research shows that there has been a very large increase in the production of meat, milk and eggs over the last few decades from about 758m tonnes in 1990 to 1,247m tonnes in 2017.
“Food demand is expected to increase massively as our population expands toward 10 billion,” said Prof Matthew Betts at Oregon State University, US, and another author of the letter. “Reducing human demand for resource-intensive animal protein would considerably slow the rate of global forest loss, with huge benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services, in addition to carbon storage.”
More than 50 leading experts have lend their supported to the letter.
“Ruminant meat is 10 to 100 times more damaging to the climate than plant-based food,” said Prof Pete Smith, at the University of Aberdeen, UK, a senior author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. “As a planet, we need to transition away from a dependence on livestock, just as we need to transition away from fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of hitting the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Livestock numbers need to peak very soon and thereafter decline substantially.”
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)