Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advised that individuals could help tackle global warning through diet change. Diet change is important because of the huge greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems - including habitat destruction - associated with rearing cattle and other animals.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. These are generated during the production of animal feed, for example, while ruminants - cows, emit methane, which is 23 times more effective as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide. The agency has also warned that meat consumption is set to double with the rapid consumption of meat in India and abroad.
'Give up meat for one day in a week, initially, and then decrease it from there,' says, Pachauri, who is a vegetarian himself. However, he also stressed other changes in lifestyle would help to combat climate change which is bringing about reductions in every sector of the economy. Also, the bigger issue here is not consumption but where the meat comes from. “If we all stopped buying imported food we'd save a huge amount of carbon emissions”, adds Pachauri.
Animal welfare groups like Compassion in World Farming, have had studies and calculated that if the average UK household halved meat consumption it would cut emissions by more than half of the current number in the world. The group has called for governments to lead campaigns to reduce meat consumption by 60 per cent by 2020. Campaigners have also pointed out the health benefits of eating less meat. The average person in the U.K eats 50g of protein a day, equivalent to a chicken breast and a lamb chop and 25-50 per cent more than World Health Organisation guidelines.
Last year a major report into the environmental impact of meat eating by the Food Climate Research Network at Surrey University claimed livestock generated 8% of UK emissions - but eating some meat was good for the planet because some habitats benefited from grazing. It is also said vegetarian diets that included lots of milk, butter and cheese would probably not reduce emissions because dairy cows are a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas released through flatulence.
With the above claims, whether practical or not, one thing has to be agreed upon, and that is, climate change is a very young science and a lot more needs to be studied on its impact to be able to make such claims.
Photo Ritika Acharya.