Vegetarianism, the mantra to overcome climate change challenges

via published on November 14, 2009

Vegetarianism is emerging as a new solution to solving the climate change challenge. The latest to champion the cause is the best-known climate economist Nicholas Stern, who has said that turning vegetarian would help to check climate change.

He told FE in an exclusive interview, “A vegetarian diet is climate friendly. It’s less carbon intensive. Though eating food is a matter of personal choice, it is desirable to help people make informed decisions.”

The director of the India Observatory at the London School of Economics was in the capital to deliver a lecture on “Building an Equitable Agreement on Climate Change”, which was organised by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relation along with the Management Development Institute.

He is not alone in taking up the dietary aspect of climate change. Earlier, Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chairman Rajendra Pachauri called upon people to reduce meat intake to become climate friendly. United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change chief Yvo de Boer has also said on record that the best climate change solution is to turn vegetarian.

Now, even celebrities are joining the campaign. Paul McCartney and family are asking people to turn vegetarian for a day in a week. Apart from stars like Kevin Spacey, Woody Harrelson and Joanna Lumley, the Meat Free Monday campaign is reported to have the support of Virgin chief Richard Branson. The campaign seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from livestock.

They have evidence to support their arguments. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that the livestock sector is responsible for 18% of the global greenhouse gas emissions in carbon dioxide equivalent. Besides, the livestock business also degrades land and pollutes water, according to Livestock’s Long Shadow-Environmental Issues and Options.

The emissions from the sector are set to increase in absolute numbers because meat production is projected to double by 2050. The emissions of the livestock sector are caused by the manufacture and transportation of animal feed, deforestation, desertification, and emission of methane by ruminants like cattle and sheep. Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the most important GHGs. While methane is 25-times as harmful as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide is 300-times more harmful.

Cutting down on meat not only helps in reducing emissions, but also the cost of fighting climate change, according to another study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Climate Benefits of Changing Diet has concluded that reducing meat intake would help slash the costs of fighting climate change. It would not only bring down emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, but also free up grazing land for carbon sequestration. The study has estimated that low-meat diets help would cut the cost of stabilising GHG emissions by more than half in 2050.

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