Global meat and dairy consumption must be dramatically reduced if we are to avert a climate catastrophe – that’s the clear conclusion of a new report released today (Friday 5th November) at COP26 by the international charity Compassion in World Farming.

The report, Breaking the Taboo: Why Diets Must Change to Tackle Climate Emergency, sets out the clear scientific case that without an urgent and dramatic global reduction in meat consumption we will be unable to meet the targets agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement to avert a climate catastrophe.

Fossil fuels, energy and transport tend to dominate climate discussions. Governments largely ignore livestock’s contribution to climate change, terrified of taking on the powerful vested interests that drive expanding global consumption of meat and dairy.

The report reveals that:

  • The livestock sector is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • The food system is responsible for one third of all GHG emissions – 75% of agriculture’s emissions are from livestock
  • To meet the Paris Agreement targets, all sectors need to reduce their emissions.  However, if global meat and dairy consumption continues at the same rate, emissions from food and agriculture will rise significantly, and meeting the Paris Agreement targets will be very difficult
  • Changes to our diets could contribute up to a fifth of the mitigation needed to meet the Paris Agreement targets

In order to turn the tide on the crisis, governments and policy makers must act urgently in several key areas, according to the charity. This includes reducing meat production in industrial monogastric farming (for example, pigs and poultry) and the feedlot cattle sectors. Most meat and dairy should come from farms where animals are able to graze on well-managed biodiverse grassland, and the amount of land devoted to livestock should also be reduced to support natural climate solutions like restoration of forests and peatland.

The report highlights that policies developed to solve the issue must integrate key considerations including: food security, resource efficiency, biodiversity loss, deforestation, detrimental impacts on soils and water, and animal welfare, as well as the use of antimicrobials and the risk of future pandemics.

Finally, in order to ensure action is taken, governments must encourage and incentivise reduced levels of meat and dairy production and consumption, other than in countries where levels are already low.

Author of the report and Chief Policy Adviser at Compassion in World Farming, Peter Stevenson, said: “The central role that food and agriculture plays in the climate crisis has been virtually overlooked by world leaders.

“Today, we’re breaking the taboo and saying what has to be said through our new report – that livestock production is a major driver of the climate crisis. Without an urgent and dramatic global reduction in meat and dairy consumption we will be unable to meet the Paris Agreement targets needed to avert a climate catastrophe. Are we really prepared to risk destroying the planet simply because we cannot curb our excessive consumption of meat and dairy?

“World leaders must seize the opportunity of Nature Day tomorrow (6th November) to commit to taking urgent and definitive action to reverse this calamitous path, before it’s too late. The world is watching and waiting.”