Even reducing the amount of meat we eat can significantly lessen our environmental impact on the planet, according to a new study from the University of Oxford.
Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK weighs up and compares the carbon cost of vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and omnivorous diets.
Vegan diets were found to be the least harmful to the planet in environmental terms (generating the equivalent of almost 3 kg of carbon dioxide daily), and meat-heavy the most (over 7 kg of CO2 daily). Meat-free diets generate just under 4 kg of CO2 a day.
According to the research, if a person who ate 100 g of meat a day were to become vegan their carbon footprint would shrink by 60 per cent, saving the annual equivalent of 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
And just by cutting their daily intake by half, to 50 g, they could reduce their footprint by 35 per cent, saving almost a tonne of carbon dioxide a year.
“In general there is a clear and strong trend with reduced greenhouse gas emissions in diets that contain less meat,” said lead researcher Peter Scarborough, who added that the study was the first to “confirm and quantify the difference” between diet-related carbon footprints.
The findings, published in the journal Climatic Change, were based on dietary data from nearly 60,000 Britons and underline the environmental imperative to reduce the amount of meat we eat.
An FAO report last year concluded that the livestock industry is responsible for generating 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to “unequivocal” global warming, according to the influential IPCC climate panel.
The Oxford report concluded: “National governments that are considering an update of dietary recommendations in order to define a ‘healthy, sustainable diet’ must incorporate the recommendation to lower the consumption of animal-based products.”