UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet

Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says

Felicity Carus

Wednesday 2 June 2010

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

The recommendation follows advice last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the Labour government on the economics of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions.

The panel of experts ranked products, resources, economic activities and transport according to their environmental impacts. Agriculture was on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth, they said.

Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who co-chaired the panel, said: “Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products – livestock now consumes much of the world’s crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides.”

Both energy and agriculture need to be “decoupled” from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found.

Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: “Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation.”

The panel, which drew on numerous studies including the Millennium ecosystem assessment, cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.

Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, says the report, which has been launched to coincide with UN World Environment day on Saturday.

Last year the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that food production would have to increase globally by 70% by 2050 to feed the world’s surging population. The panel says that efficiency gains in agriculture will be overwhelmed by the expected population growth.

Prof Hertwich, who is also the director of the industrial ecology programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said that developing countries – where much of this population growth will take place – must not follow the western world’s pattern of increasing consumption: “Developing countries should not follow our model. But it’s up to us to develop the technologies in, say, renewable energy or irrigation methods.”

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7 thoughts on “UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet

  1. Is it just me, or the whole of humanity blind to the fact that ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS STOP PROCREATING!

    So much would be solved–global warming, running out of resources such as oil and water–traffic issues.

    Let’s take a break, for a few ‘non-generations’.

    How unsmart are we? How unable to stop humping each other silly?
    Imagine a world of 2 Billion people and NOT 9.1B.

    Otherwise, I figure we deserve our fate and we are indeed nothing but a cancerous mass on the planet unable to stop and use are unique rationality.

    Eat your steaks and eggs and drink your milk, but hold off on the baby-making. Only humanity would benefit.

  2. We should procreate like they drive in Mexico City, everyone in the world gets a number–if your number is called you get to make a baby if it doesn’t you do NOT make a baby this lifetime. In a hundred years, boom, population problem solved. After that just have two per couple and everyone including the Earth, is happy.

  3. A) We should not stop procreating… BUT we should procreate more carefully… not everybody has to make babies, and not every family needs to have 10 kids…

    B) Now seriously?!!? Numbers?!!? Rudra!!!

  4. The only countries where polulation is actually increasing are those poor undeveloped nations. Developed nations have aging populations and thier numbers are beginning to fall. This especially include pure race nations like Japan and China who have huge social problems coming down the pike over the next 20 years because few people imigrate there and they are not having aenough children. So in reality we need to stop poor countries from growing, not developed counries. Lets stomp on those poor countries, stop them from having children. So I agree with your views, lets keep the poor countries broke and childless. Who wants poor people around anyway.

  5. @Klem, your humour isn’t even intelligent. ‘Poor’ implies wealth which is smaller in number, if you can comprehend basic math, you’d see that ‘growth rates’ are higher with smaller numbers–merely due to mathematics. 2 is 200% of 1, 4 is 200% of 2, while 1000 is 0.001% of 999

    Rate of growth is meaningless in absolute terms.

    Nation States are a false creation. I do not consider them important. Humanity is one.
    You lack knowledge in history if you consider ANY ‘nation’ ‘pure race’. There is no such thing. All humans have intermingled thoughout history, unless you perhaps may consider the Earth 6000 years old, in which case, Cain and Abel had to have had sex with their mother, the first motherfuckers, as it were, in order to perpetuate humanity, and we are all seriously retarded.

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