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Shun meat, says UN climate chief

September 7th, 2008 | Tina | General, Health, In the news, The environment | 4 Comments »

By, Richard Black, BBC News, September 7, 2008

People should consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming, says the UN’s top climate scientist.

Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will make the call at a speech in London on Monday evening.

UN figures suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport.

But a spokeswoman for the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said methane emissions from farms were declining.

Dr Pachauri has just been re-appointed for a second six-year term as chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC, the body that collates and evaluates climate data for the world’s governments.

“The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions,” he told BBC News.

“So I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider.”

Climate of persuasion

The FAO figure of 18% includes greenhouse gases released in every part of the meat production cycle – clearing forested land, making and transporting fertiliser, burning fossil fuels in farm vehicles, and the front and rear end emissions of cattle and sheep.

The contributions of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – are roughly equivalent, the FAO calculates.

Transport, by contrast, accounts for just 13% of humankind’s greenhouse gas footprint, according to the IPCC.

Dr Pachauri will be speaking at a meeting organised by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), whose main reason for suggesting people lower their consumption of meat is to reduce the number of animals in factory farms.

CIWF’s ambassador Joyce D’Silva said that thinking about climate change could spur people to change their habits.

“The climate change angle could be quite persuasive,” she said.

“Surveys show people are anxious about their personal carbon footprints and cutting back on car journeys and so on; but they may not realise that changing what’s on their plate could have an even bigger effect.”

Side benefits

There are various possibilities for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with farming animals.

They range from scientific approaches, such as genetically engineering strains of cattle that produce less methane flatus, to reducing the amount of transport involved through eating locally reared animals.

“The NFU is committed to ensuring farming is part of the solution to climate change, rather than being part of the problem,” an NFU spokeswoman told BBC News.

“We strongly support research aimed at reducing methane emissions from livestock farming by, for example, changing diets and using anaerobic digestion.”

Methane emissions from UK farms have fallen by 13% since 1990.

But the biggest source globally of carbon dioxide from meat production is land clearance, particularly of tropical forest, which is set to continue as long as demand for meat rises.

Ms D’Silva believes that governments negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol ought to take these factors into account.

“I would like governments to set targets for reduction in meat production and consumption,” she said.

“That’s something that should probably happen at a global level as part of a negotiated climate change treaty, and it would be done fairly, so that people with little meat at the moment such as in sub-Saharan Africa would be able to eat more, and we in the west would eat less.”

Dr Pachauri, however, sees it more as an issue of personal choice.

“I’m not in favour of mandating things like this, but if there were a (global) price on carbon perhaps the price of meat would go up and people would eat less,” he said.

“But if we’re honest, less meat is also good for the health, and would also at the same time reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7600005.stm

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Comments

4 Responses to “Shun meat, says UN climate chief”

  1. aj.D
    September 9th, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

    I think many of us have known this for years. Now skeptics people won’t think we’re crazy when we say one reason we’re vegetarian — or in my case, flexitarian 🙂 — is it’s better for the environment.
    When are you headed to Guatemala?

  2. Tor
    September 6th, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

    Hi Richard Black,

    I just wanted to write and congratulate you on your fantastic article “Shun meat, says UN climate chief”, thank you for mentioning our work.

    As I’m sure you are aware Compassion in World Farming is the only charity working specifically to end factory farming. We are a small but dedicated team who work tirelessly to promote better treatment of farm animals. We receive no government funding and as such are not in the position to fund large media campaigns; therefore we greatly value your work to promote our cause. It is fantastic to have eloquent advocates such as yourself onboard working as virtual ambassadors, spreading the word about farm animal welfare. Digital online technology has made it possible to reach an audience of millions using the peaceful weapon of the word. It is amazing to note the impact that just one person can have!

    It’s always great to read comments and feedback from supporters, it helps us know that we are getting things right. I am glad that the information we supply is of use to you. I wish you all the very best with the “Shun meat, says UN climate chief” article, what a fantastic resource. If we can be of any future assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch and we’ll help you in any way we can.

    You may be interested to know that Compassion in World Farming are hosting an upcoming memorial lecture titled “BEEF, BREAD AND WATER: ETHICAL FOOD IN A WARM AND THIRSTY WORLD”. We would like to offer you two complimentary tickets for you and a companion to attend as a token of our gratitude for blogging about our work. If you are at all interested please contact me on Tor.Bailey@ciwf.org

    I would appreciate if you confirm your attendance asap to guarantee your space and to help us with event planning.

    Our speakers are:
    Philip Lymbery
    Arjen Hoekstra, Professor in Multidisciplinary Water Management, University of Twente and creator of the water footprint concept
    Kate Rawles: bio-ethics expert and ‘outdoor philosopher’

    Thank you for your support.

    Kind regards,

    Tor

  3. Tina
    September 6th, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

    Dear Tor,

    Thank you for your additional comment. Richard Black wrote the article on BBC news and I just posted it here to highlight the issue because I tink it’s vital.

    Best wishes,
    Tina

  4. Pablo
    September 8th, 2010 @ 1:11 am

    Today I found this article about a new way to reduce these methane emissions:
    “Adding an oregano-based supplement to cow feed has been shown to reduce methane production in cows by 40 percent, and also improved milk production”
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-09/ps-ufs090710.php

    Cows with oregano included great taste and less “emissions”; Meat 1 – vegetals 0.

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