UN Climate Report Urges Shift Away From Meat and Dairy

2021 UN Climate Report Urges Shift Away From Meat and Dairy

The latest United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report calls for all levels of society to help protect the environment.

According to the UN climate report, “everyone has a role to play” in transforming humankind’s relationship with the natural world. This includes voting, minimizing waste, and moving away from high-impact animal products such as meat and dairy.

The report, titled Making Peace with Nature: a scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity, and pollution emergencies, draws on existing evidence gathered by global environmental assessments. It also identifies key ways in which people can change humanity’s relationship with the natural world, from individuals to companies and banks to governments.

Making Peace with Nature highlights the three main environmental emergencies of the coming years: the ongoing climate crisis, the continued devastation of wildlife and nature, and increasing worldwide pollution. These issues are inextricably linked, and according to the UN must be addressed simultaneously.

“For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who presented the report at a news briefing last week. “The result is three interlinked environmental crises: climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution that threaten our viability as a species.”

How are these issues connected?

The world is currently on track for 3 degrees warming by the end of the 21st century — twice the optimal maximum described by the Paris Agreement. If this global heating is not mitigated, the most devastating effects of climate change will be felt around the world. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, increasingly uninhabitable deserts, and powerful storms are likely.

Human activity is undoubtedly driving the climate crisis, and measurable global warming and extreme weather events — in addition to biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and water scarcity — are already on the rise.

Deforestation, the burning of fossil fuels, and animal agriculture are all leading causes of climate change. But in addition to greenhouse gas emissions, animal agriculture and fossil fuels also create significant amounts of other air and water pollution.

Additionally, animal agriculture uses up huge quantities of water and land, driving deforestation and biodiversity loss. Both deforestation and pollution are also key drivers of biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and water scarcity. All of which negatively impact human health, the global food system, and the natural world.

UN Climate Report Urges Shift Away From Meat and Dairy
According to the WWF, at least 10,000 species go extinct every year. | Christophe Cerisier / iStock

How much flora and fauna is already gone?

According to the UN, up to 100 plant and animal species are lost every single day. While in the World Wildlife Fund’s 2014 “Living Planet Report,” researchers concluded that the planet lost 52 percent of its wildlife in the preceding 40 years.

Animals such as rhinoceros, mountain gorillas, tigers, and orangutans are among the world’s most endangered animals. While approximately 20 percent of the world’s rainforests — containing some of the most biodiverse areas on earth — has already been destroyed.

Animal agriculture is a leading cause of this deforestation, particularly in the Amazon, as detailed in the WWF’s “Love it or lose it” campaign.

Moving forward, a change in how the natural world is “valued” is essential. Economic and financial systems fail to account for the many essential benefits humanity gets from nature, and must provide incentives to manage it widely, maintain its value, and end overexploitation.

“We can see the GDP growth when we cut forests, and we are destroying nature, and we are destroying wealth, but we consider it GDP growth,” said Guterres.

Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP added: “We are destroying the planet, placing our own health and prosperity at risk.”

According to the report, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic recovery could be used to rethink priorities and build a sustainable future. The report reads: “There is an urgent need for a clear break with current trends of environmental decline and the coming decade is crucial.”

UN Climate Report Urges Shift Away From Meat and Dairy
Avoiding food and resource waste will help reduce humanity’s impact on the environment. | iStock

What can we do about it? 3 key takeaways

“There is indeed no precedent for what we have to do, but if 2020 was a disaster, let 2021 then be the year humanity began making peace with nature and secured a fair, just and sustainable future for everyone” said Guterres.

The report suggests that individuals can support this global transformation in three main areas.

Through their voting and civic rights

By voting in local, regional, and national elections, people can help elect candidates with strong environmental opinions and platforms. Zero-waste blog Trash is for Tossers produced a guide to voting in the U.S. and why it matters for the environment. You can check it out here.

Additional reading:

By avoiding food and resource waste

According to the USDA, the U.S. wastes between 30 and 40 percent of its national food supply every single year. Reducing food waste helps both to mitigate climate change and to improve the efficiency of the food system. Resource waste also presents a problem, particularly in high-impact areas like the technology and fashion industries.

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By minimizing energy consumption

Energy use is by far the single largest source of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Fossil fuels are responsible for the bulk of these emissions, and reducing carbon-intensive activities such as driving and flying can help mitigate the impact.

However, reducing energy waste at home with eco-friendly appliances and light fixtures can also help. Online educational resource Sciencing published a guide to minimizing energy consumption which is available here.

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The report suggested a move away from animal products. | Katerina Holmes / Pexels

Ditching meat and dairy to help the environment

The report also specifically highlights the role of food in all three environmental problem areas, and suggests a move away from animal products such as meat and dairy in wealthy countries, where possible.

This is not the first time UNEP has suggested a shift towards plant-based foods, and a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that ditching meat and dairy supports better personal and environmental health.

“Changing the dietary habits of consumers, particularly in developed countries, where consumption of energy and water-intensive meat and dairy products is high, would reduce pressure on biodiversity and the climate system,” reads the report.

Bill Gates recently suggested the same thing, and specifically cited the need to swap traditional, high-impact beef for “synthetic meat,” where possible, if we are to successfully mitigate climate change.

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