By Agence France-Presse
PARIS/GENEVA(AFP) – The world must drastically reduce its meat consumption in order to avoid devastating climate change, scientists said Wednesday in the most thorough study so far on how what we eat affects the environment.
As humanity grapples with tough choices to offset a rapidly heating planet, the research suggests that the Western world would need to slash its meat intake by 90 percent to avoid crippling Earth’s ability to sustain an anticipated 10 billion people by 2050.
Food production – which produces damaging greenhouse gases from livestock, ruins enormous swathes of forests and uses unsustainable amounts of water – is a major contributor to climate change.
A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature offers the most comprehensive look yet at just how bad intensive agriculture is for the planet.
Without a huge drawdown in the amount of meat consumed, its authors said, the food industry’s already vast impact on the environment could increase by as much as 90 percent by mid-century.
That coupled with a sharp projected rise in global population would devastate mankind’s ability to effectively feed itself – and dash any realistic hope of curbing runaway global warming.
The scientists called for a “global shift” towards more plant-based diets, slashing food waste and improving farming practices with the aid of technology to cope with the burden.
“No single solution is enough to avoid crossing planetary boundaries,” said Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, who led the study.
“But when the solutions are implemented together, our research indicates that it may be possible to feed the growing population sustainably.”
Ditch the steak
Experts argue that cutting meat consumption is one obvious way that citizens can do their bit for the climate, even as world leaders are locked in discussions over what precisely should be done to rein in the effects of a warming planet.
Livestock farming poses a triple threat to Earth’s atmosphere, as animals produce huge amounts of the greenhouse gas methane, coupled with the loss of carbon-absorbing forests that are felled to accommodate their grazing areas.
In addition, immense amounts of water are needed to sustain the livestock — 500 grams (a pound) of beef is estimated to require close to 7,000 liters of water.
Wednesday’s report said halving the amount of food that is wasted or lost to poor management alone could reduce the environment fallout by 16 percent.
It pointed to better education, industry reform and improved efficiency as ways towards tackling the problem.
“When it comes to diets, comprehensive policy and business approaches are essential to make dietary changes towards healthy and more plant-based diets possible and attractive for a large number of people,” Springmann said.
The UN also revealed Wednesday that the economic cost of climate-related disasters hit $2.25 trillion over the last two decades, an increase of more than 150 percent compared to the previous 20 years.
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) noted that “climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events” such as floods and storms.
Between 1978-1997, total losses for climate-related disasters was $895 billion (780 billion euros), UNISDR said in a report based on data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium.
But between1998-2017 that figure hit $2.25 trillion, the report said, listing the United States, China, Japan and India as the countries where the financial toll has been highest.
The findings were released as Michael, a Category Four hurricane, rumbled towards the Gulf Coast of Florida, in the latest storm to threaten vast destruction across the eastern US.
“The report’s analysis makes it clear that economic losses from extreme weather events are unsustainable and a major brake on eradicating poverty in hazard exposed parts of the world,” the UN secretary general’s special representative for disaster reduction, MamiMizutori, said in a statement.
UNISDR counted the number of climate-related disasters between 1998-2017 at more than 6,600, with storms and floods the most common events.
The report notes gaps in data collection, but says the findings clearly show investing in disaster risk reduction must become a central part of policy making in response to climate change.