Want to fight climate change? Eat less beef and lamb, new report concludes

A new report calls for a 20-50% reduction in the number of sheep and cattle. In addition to being a healthy decision, cutting down on red meat will also help combat climate change, the researchers argue.

More and more, meat is brought into discussions about climate change — and for good reasons. Animal agriculture is responsible for between 14% and 18% of human greenhouse gas emissions, and with global meat consumption increasing, so too will emissions. Meat products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products because of the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy. The land use and water consumption is also much greater per pound of meat compared to equally nutritious alternatives. In a new report, the British Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent public body advising the government and Parliament, suggests substantially reducing red meat consumption.

The report, carried out by a diverse team of researchers, analyzed how Britain needs to change its land usage to address climate change — but the general principles are applicable to many parts of the world.

For instance, the report recommends increasing the country’s forest cover from 13 to 19%, while also restoring peatlands (which are excellent carbon sinks) and emphasizing catchment-sensitive farming and agricultural diversification.

The report says that following these guidelines will also require a dramatic reduction in the amount of red meat eaten by the population: an 89% reduction for beef and a 63% reduction for lamb, as well as a 20% decline in dairy products.

This particular takeaway is important for people living everywhere in the world: reducing red meat consumption will greatly ease the burden humanity is producing in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and land use, but the change needs to be substantial. Just last month, a study found that if current meat consumption trends continue, the environmental pressures from the food system could almost double by 2050.

“This is a wake-up call for a complacent government that we must completely transform the way we use land, to avoid climate breakdown and make space for nature,” Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole said in a statement. “As the Committee on Climate Change says, we need to free up land from agriculture by eating much less meat and dairy, and stop landowners burning and degrading peat bogs — our single biggest carbon store.”

It’s gonna take a lot of effort to combat or even limit the effects of climate change. We need to transition our economy to renewable energy, reduce our use of fossil fuels, stop deforestation — and meat consumption is also a part of that. As the report also highlights, early action maximizes benefits. The sooner we act, the better our odds for a sustainable future.

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