Consumers confused by food-related emissions

Only around one in four (22%) people in the UK think agriculture contributes ‘a great deal’ to UK carbon emissions, while eating less meat and dairy is the least likely action to take place in the next few decades.

The findings are from a poll of almost 7,000 people conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The research, commissioned to explore public awareness and perceptions of climate change and net-zero, suggests there is a lack of awareness around the contribution farming and food make to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In the UK, emissions from agriculture were 46 MtCO2e in 2017, 9% of UK greenhouse gases. Reductions have, in the past decade, become hard to come by, and the climate change committee has called for more “low-carbon farming practices”.

The CCC has also said meat and dairy consumption needs to fall by 20% by 2035 to keep the country on the path to net-zero. Modelling showed that dietary change and food waste reduction could deliver the greatest savings in agricultural emissions.

But shifting diets is not a lifestyle change that many people see happening anytime soon, it seems. Energy efficiency (for example, installing insulation in houses) was top (66%), followed by reducing food waste (around 50%), according to the Beis/Defra survey The consumption of half as much meat and dairy was perceived to be the least likely change to occur: 32% of participants viewed it as ‘extremely likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’.

This mirrors other research of late. Surveys by Ipsos Mori and the United Nations Development Programme also showed the appetite to eat less meat and dairy and more plant-based foods isn’t quite as strong as some might think. “The promotion of plant-based diets struggled to get majority support in any of the countries surveyed,” according to UNDP’s poll. 

The 2020 Globescan healthy and sustainable living report – based on online surveying of 27,000 people in 27 countries – showed reducing waste and saving energy categorised as ‘high interest, low difficulty’. Changes to diets were ‘low interest, high difficulty’.

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