Reduction of Meat Consumption for Climate Change Mitigation

By Zahrah Rizwan

The specialty of the 22nd of April 2016 lies not simply in the fact that it is the Earth Day, but also because leaders from over 170 countries will officially sign the Paris Climate Agreement today. Going environmental friendly is consistently harped on as climate change is a burning issue at present. Though there is sufficient awareness created regarding animal cruelty issues in order to address environmental conservation there is sparse concern given to livestock in the context of global warming and climate change.

Meat Industry & GHG Emissions

Climate change is largely caused by carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions, while raising animals for food is a significant contributor to these emissions. It is important to note that the environmental impact of the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food, accounts for at least “51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions” according to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO).

Methane emissions are observed to be caused mostly due to natural digestive process of animals (enteric fermentation) and manure management in livestock operations. Nitrous oxide emissions are also associated with manure management as well as the application and deposition of manure, while carbon dioxide emissions from the livestock sector are related to “fossil fuel burning during production of fertilizer for feed production, the livestock production process, processing and transportation of refrigerated products.”

Consequently, animal agriculture is responsible for about 9 percent of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, 37 percent of human induced methane and about 65 percent of human nitrous oxide emissions, globally.” Furthermore, livestock are a major source of deforestation, desertification, as well as the release of carbon from cultivated soils.

Dietary Change as Solution to Climate Change

A recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that dietary change can “substantially lower” emission, therefore it is imperative that initiatives be taken to reduce meat consumption as a means of promoting a healthier lifestyle while curbing environmental degradation. Studies state that “meat consumption would escalate to 75% by 2050, and China alone is expected to be eating 20m tonnes more of meat and dairy a year by 2020.” The growth of the human population, projected to be roughly 35 percent between 2006 and 2050, as anticipated by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is a risk factor for climate change, as the livestock worldwide is expected to double, raising livestock-related GHG emissions. Effective strategies need to be implemented that involves replacing livestock products with better alternatives, rather than substituting one meat product with another that has a somewhat lower carbon footprint.

Restricting animal agriculture as a measure of eradicating animal cruelty is a compelling cause for legislators as much as the importance given to the livestock’s contribution to global warming.


About the Author:

ZahrahZahrah Rizwan works as programme coordinator – youth engagement at Sri Lankan Youth Climate Action Network, and is a student at University of Colombo majoring in English. Her interests include youth mobilisation for development, climate change, civic rights awareness creation.