Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius, the main goal of the 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, according to this new report by Chatham House.
The report 'Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption' focuses on global meat consumption and on ways of changing diets to reduce overconsumption. It calculates that cutting meat consumption to the level recommended by health bodies could generate a quarter of the remaining emissions reductions needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
Evidence shows that global meat consumption is already above healthy levels and predictions indicate that it will rise a further 76 per cent by 2050. Such consumption trends are incompatible with the objective of avoiding dangerous climate change.
The report describes the social and environmental costs of overconsumption of meat as significant, including a growing non-communicable disease burden, obesity, and depletion of natural resources. Public awareness of the issue is shown to be low however, and meat remains off the policy agenda.
The Chatham House team behind the report argue that measures to make meat more expensive, such as a carbon tax, would face less resistance if people were better informed and understood the negative impacts of meat consumption. They write: “Publics respond best to simple messages. Efforts must be made to develop meaningful, accessible and impactful messaging around the need for dietary change.”
The report describes how governments are “stuck in a cycle of inertia, fearing the repercussions of intervention”. The results of innovative new research, which included a 12-country public survey and focus groups in Brazil, China, the UK, and the US, leads the authors to conclude that government fears are exaggerated and that once aware of the link between meat and climate change, consumers accept the need for government action.
The report authors argue that governments must lead in shifting attitudes and behaviours and create comprehensive strategies to shift diets. This includes making it cheaper and easier to eat healthily and sustainably for example by implementing policies on labelling, public procurement, regulation and pricing.
- Our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change. Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius. The livestock sector accounts for 15 per cent of global emissions, equivalent to exhaust emissions from all the vehicles in the world. A shift to healthier patterns of meat-eating could bring a quarter of the emissions reductions we need to keep on track for a two-degree world.
- Global meat consumption has already reached unhealthy levels, and is on the rise. In industrialized countries, the average person is already eating twice as much meat as is deemed healthy by experts. Overconsumption is already contributing to the rise of obesity and non-communicable diseases like cancer and type-2 diabetes, and it is a growing problem: global meat consumption is set to rise by over 75 per cent by 2050.
- Governments are missing a key opportunity for climate mitigation, trapped in a cycle of inertia. In spite of a compelling case for addressing meat consumption and shifting diets, governments fear the repercussions of intervention, while low public awareness means they feel little pressure to intervene.
- Public awareness of the link between diet and climate change is very low. There is a considerable awareness gap around the links between livestock, diet and climate change. While awareness-raising alone will not be sufficient to effect dietary change, it will be crucial to ensuring the efficacy of the range of government policy interventions required.
- Governments must lead. Our research found a general belief across cultures and continents that it is the role of government to spearhead efforts to address unsustainable consumption of meat. Governments overestimate the risk of public backlash and their inaction signals to publics that the issue is unimportant or undeserving of concern.
- The issue is complex but the message must be simple. Publics respond best to simple messages. Efforts must be made to develop meaningful, accessible and impactful messaging around the need for dietary change. The overall message remains clear: globally we should eat less meat.
- Trusted sources are key to raising awareness. Unless disseminated and supported by trusted sources, new information that encourages shifts in meat-eating habits is likely to be met with resistance. Trust in governments varies considerably between countries, but experts are consistently seen as the most reliable source of information within a country.
- Build the case for government intervention. A compelling evidence base which resonates with existing policy objectives such as managing healthcare costs, reducing emissions and implementing international frameworks will help mobilize policy-makers.
- Initiate national debates about meat consumption. Increasing public awareness about the problems of overconsumption of animal products can help disrupt the cycle of inertia, thereby creating more enabling domestic circumstances and the political space for policy intervention. This is a role for governments, the media, the scientific community, civil society and responsible business.
- Pursue comprehensive approaches. Shifting diets will require comprehensive strategies, which together will amount to more than the sum of their parts by sending a powerful signal to consumers that reducing meat consumption is beneficial and that government takes the issue seriously.
Wellesley, L., Happer C., Froggatt, A., (2015). Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption, Chatham House, London, UK.
Further coverage of this report can be found here. For related work by FCRN and Chatham House see their joint report “Policies and actions to shift eating patterns: what works? A review of the evidence of the effectiveness of interventions aimed at shifting diets in more sustainable and healthy directions”.
Read more about food consumption, Sustainable Healthy Diets, Governance and policy, Food culture, Dietary guidelines, Consumer perceptions and preferences, meat, eggs and alternatives, Public attitudes, Behaviour and practice theories, food and agriculture policy, nutrition policy.