If you read this latest UN body report, you may be tempted to turn vegetarian, particularly if you are an individual who feels strongly about what causes global warming and how climate change is affecting humans in every sphere of activity. Ever heard of a flexitarian diet? You may find some interesting cues from the latest UN body report, that has strongly advocated that switching to plant-based food can help fight climate change in a meaningful way. According to the comprehensive report, dietary changes, comprising of plant-based foods and sustainable, animal-sourced food hold the key to cut about 0.7 to 8.0 gigatonnes annually of carbon dioxide equivalent.
As you already know, most agricultural activities emit substantial amounts of greenhouse gases. In addition, food supply chains also emit greenhouse gases due to activities such as transportation, storage, packaging and consumption of energy.
Wondering about the effects of greenhouse gases? Or are you concerned about what greenhouse gases do? Then, here's what the latest UN body report wants you to be aware of.
Notably, meat and dairy emit a larger amount of greenhouse gases than growing crops, due to enteric fermentation processes that are large emitters of 22 methane.
"The IPCC does not recommend people's diets. What we have pointed out on the basis of scientific evidence is that there are certain diets that have a lower carbon footprint," Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC stated.
A detailed perusal of Chapter 5 of the UN body report refers to the mitigation potential of different diets. There is clear recognition in the report that food preference has a cultural dimension that is subject to change. For instance, the popular food switch from traditional diets to high sugar, high meat and high saturated fat diets indicate the sea-change in cultural food preferences.
One interesting term is the 'flexitarian' diet, which comprises mostly of fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins, modest amounts of animal-based 31 proteins, and limited amounts of starchy food, refined sugar, saturated fat and red meat.
A notable statistic cited in the UN body report is also that Americans avoided 271 million metric tonnes of emissions simply by reducing their beef consumption from 2005 to 2014.
Another case study referred to the Netherlands, where a nationwide sample comprising of over a thousand consumers had been used to study their dietary choices to smaller portions of meat and eating more vegetable protein and meatless meals, with or sometimes without meat substitutes. (Reference: de Boer et al. 2014).
While the above-mentioned case studies demonstrate that advanced economies are keen to switch to plant-based diets, these are some key points from the UN body report:
1. Meat – especially ruminant meat (beef and lamb) – was 41 consistently identified as the single food with the greatest impact on the environment, on a global 42 basis, most often in terms of GHG emissions and/or land use.
2. In 2011, food loss and waste resulted in about 8–10% of greenhouse gas 2 emissions of the entire food system.
3. Similar to food waste, over-consumption leads to GHG emissions.
4. Encouraging the consumption of locally produced food can reduce emissions linked to energy consumption and food loss.
Michalský and Hooda (2015), through a quantitative assessment of GHG emissions of selected fruits and vegetables in the UK, had reported that increased local production offers considerable emissions savings.
The report also refers to a study in India, which clearly showed that long and fragmented supply chains lead to disrupted price signals, unequal power relations, perverse incentives and long transportation time.
While reducing food loss and waste to zero might not be feasible, there can be mechanisms put into place for reducing it to minimise its environmental consequences.
In a nutshell, the latest UN body report pitches for changing diets towards a lower share of animal-sourced food would reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.