THE BLOG
09/11/2017 06:08 GMT | Updated 09/11/2017 06:08 GMT

UN Climate Change Conference: Time To Recognise We Have A Lot On Our Plate

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This year's two week long United Nations Climate Change Conference has kicked off in Bonn, where governments are meeting to discuss next steps on the path to achieving the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, aims to hold the increase in global temperatures to well below 2°C and ideally to limit the increase to 1.5°C. However, a new UN study shows there is a huge gap between the reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pledged so far by the world's governments, and the reductions needed to meet these targets.

The Bonn conference has to decide how to bridge this gap.

A major driver of climate change

There will, rightly, be lots of talk about moving to carbon-neutral transport and energy production. But, cowed by industrial farming and agri-business lobbies, governments are reluctant to talk about the role of our diets - and livestock farming - in pushing us close to the climate change cliff edge.

The livestock sector is currently responsible for 14.5% of global GHG emissions and on a business-as-usual basis, emissions from food and agriculture are set to increase substantially over the coming years. The driver of this? Our huge global consumption of 'cheap' meat and dairy.

If we don't curb this aspect of our diets, studies show it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to meet the Paris targets. This is stressed by Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, who says: "The world's current consumption pattern of meat and dairy products is a major driver of climate change and climate change can only be effectively addressed if demand for these products is reduced".

Time for government to act

I've presented evidence showing the need for dietary change to the UK government and the European Commission but they simply don't want to know, hiding behind the claim that 'we can't tell people what to eat'.

Of course no-one is suggesting that governments should 'tell' us what to eat. However, they can educate us on the impact the western diet is having on the planet and encourage us to move to a more plant-based diet.

The well-respected policy institute Chatham House conducted an in-depth study into public attitudes in the UK, US, China and Brazil. It concluded that people in all four countries expect government leadership in this area and believe that "it is the role of government to spearhead efforts to address unsustainable consumption of meat".

It is unlikely that temperature rises can be kept below the 2°C threshold without a reduction in global meat and dairy demand. But the good news is, that a simple switch in our diets, could play a major part in helping us avoid these dangerous levels of climate change.

Ignoring a crucial factor

Instead of eating lots of 'cheap' meat from factory farmed animals reared in appalling conditions, we should be eating less, better quality meat and dairy products. This change in diet would not only have huge environmental benefits, but would enable farmers to move toward more extensive, humane and sustainable farming methods, such as free range and organic.

Decarbonising energy, industry and transport will all be on the Bonn agenda. But food, our diets and livestock farming are likely to be ignored.

Why are governments so reluctant to challenge the status quo? Would they rather see disastrous levels of climate change than stand up to the factory farming lobby, the global grain traders and the purveyors of animal drugs, livestock genetics and agro-chemicals, all of whom are dependent on rising meat consumption?