Reduce meat & dairy to the save climate

Robert McSweeny has written an excellent piece for Carbon Brief, Reducing meat and dairy a ‘win-win’ for climate and health. It concerns a recent report by Chatham House that makes these points:

  • Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping
    global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius.
  • Public awareness of the link between diet and climate change
    is very low.

Carbon Brief quotes one of the authors, Laura Wellesley:

“The assumption that interventions like this are too politically sensitive and too practically difficult to implement is unjustified. Our focus groups pointed to a public that expect governments to lead, that expect governments to take action on issues that are in the public interest.”

But what will it take to get politicians to take the risk and act – or at least not deny? In the past, I have confronted politicians on this issue, with no response. When Hilary Benn was DEFRAs Secretary of State for DEFRA, I emailed him after meeting him

Is DEFRA considering any policies that might make substantial reductions in the impact of sheep and cows? And should the the government inform and consult public on this issue?

(See also Can DEFRA be trusted with the climate?)

My comment on Carbon Brief’s article (Key point: Even Chatham House underestimates the impact of meat and dairy.) …

This article is excellent stuff. Congratulations to Carbon Brief and Chatham House.


“Globally, the livestock sector accounts for 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions – that’s equivalent to all exhaust emissions from every vehicle on the planet.” The source of the “15%” is Tackling Climate Change through Livestock by the FAO.

Without actually saying so, the FAO hint that the Global Warming Potential for methane used in their estimate was measured over 100 years. But we must eke out the remaining carbon budget until we can extract CO2 from the atmosphere.(See Is Green Growth a Fantasy?). The IPCC target for large scale carbon extraction is the second half of the century – 30 to 40 years from now).

Such a time frame means that the hundred years is an inappropriate measure for methane’s potency – a shorter time should be chosen. One of the standard ones is 20 years.  This makes the impact of methane three to five times worse (depending on whose figures are chosen). Consequently, beef and lamb production are significantly worse.

There are estimates of the emissions from livestock from different sources:  e.g. the Times, the FAO and the World Watch Institute. The WWI estimates are in “Livestock and Climate Change”, written by employees of the World Bank.

These are compared in “How long is livestock’s shadow?” which concludes…

“ …the Times says 9%, the UN FAO says 18% and the World Bank people say 51%.”

Yes, the WWI report does say the total greenhouse gas emissions attributable to livestock products are greater than 51% of the Annual emissions worldwide.

The WWI 51% uses the (more realistic?) 20 year period for estimating the Global Warming Potential of methane.

I would be interested to know why the World Bank did not publish their employees work. Is it because as you say …

“Governments have shied away from promoting sustainable diets in fear of a backlash from the public and food industry, while the lack of action means public awareness of the climate impact of meat and dairy is low.”

1 thought on “Reduce meat & dairy to the save climate

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.