It can sometimes feel as if there is a gaping chasm between what must be done to save the planet from climate catastrophe and the actual steps being taken to do so. But the gulf may actually be only two beef burgers wide.
By eating no more than that amount of meat every week, citizens of the developed world could do their bit to help keep global temperature rises to within 1.5C degrees of pre-industrial levels – the target those self-same countries committed to aiming for at the Paris climate talks in 2015.
The conclusion is one of several made in a new report that sets out how close the planet is to halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – a target it must hit in order to reach net zero by 2050, as set out in the Paris Agreement. State of Climate Action 2022, produced by organisations including the World Resources Institute (WRI), assesses how far the world’s biggest emitters have to go to curb and reverse global heating, with a particular focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, locking away carbon and increasing climate finance.
As well countries cutting back on meat consumption, the report says coal must be phased out six times faster than it is at the moment – a timely memo for the British government, which has just approved the construction of the first new coal mine for 30 years; public transport must be rolled out six times faster; deforestation must be hacked back; e-vehicles must continue to be rolled out at their current speedy rate; and heavy industry such as steel and cement must speed up their emissions-cutting efforts.
“The world has seen the devastation wrought by just 1.1C of warming,” said Ani Dasgupta, chief executive of the WRI. Every fraction of a degree matters in the fight to protect people and the planet. We are seeing important advances in the fight against climate change but we are still not winning in any sector.”
Eating more plant-based food and fewer animal products is a key part of efforts to tackle the climate emergency. Thanks to the meat industry and industrialised farming techniques, western food systems have a vast impact on the environment.
As the report says: “Critical shifts are needed in the agriculture sector to achieve global food security and limit warming to 1.5C. These include shifting to low-carbon agricultural practices, sustainably increasing crop yields and ruminant meat productivity, dramatically lowering food loss and waste, and shifting to more sustainable diets, namely by reducing ruminant meat intake in high-consuming regions. These shifts will be necessary in order to ease competition for land and achieve the targets to protect and restore carbon-rich ecosystems.”
It adds that in order to feed the population of the world – almost 10 billion people – by 2050 while keeping within the 1.5C threshold, “emissions intensity would need to decrease roughly three times faster” than its current annual rate of change. The required decline can be achieved, it says, if we change the way we farm and what we eat.