Meat and dairy consumption needs to fall by 20% by 2035 to put the UK on the path to net zero, according to the government’s advisory body.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) said food waste must also halve by 2030 and household recycling rates should hit 70% by the same year.
This week the CCC delivered advice on how the UK government can meet the sixth carbon budget which will run from 2033 to 2037. It said its recommendations constitute “the first ever detailed route map for a fully decarbonised nation” and the key milestones that must be met.
The CCC’s in-depth analysis shows that total UK emissions must fall by almost 80% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels if the target to reach net zero emissions by 2050 is to be achieved. It said to do so would require significant action across all industry sectors including agriculture.
Modelling shows that dietary change and food waste reduction can deliver the greatest savings in agricultural emissions. The CCC recommends a 20% shift away from meat and dairy products by 2030, with a further 15% reduction of meat products by 2050. These are substituted with plant-based options. It would mean weekly per person meat consumption dropping from 960g in 2019 to 730g in 2035 and 630g in 2050.
The recommendation marks a notable shift in position from the CCC which has previously focused its attention on reducing consumption of red meat. In a separate methodology paper, it acknowledged concerns around imported feed for pig and poultry production, such as soy, which may have high embedded emissions and wider environmental costs.
Rob Percival, head of policy at the Soil Association, welcomed the focus on all meat which he said highlighted “the important role of ruminants in an agro-ecological and organic farming system and the damaging impacts of animal feed and intensification”.
The National Farmers Union, however, said it was disappointed that the report overlooked how meat and dairy is produced. “If you want to continue eating quality, nutritious red meat and dairy while also doing your bit for the planet, it can be as simple as buying British and checking where your red meat has been sourced when eating out,” said NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts.
Achieving net zero emissions also assumes food waste is halved across the supply chain by 2030 and falls by 60% by 2050 compared with 2007 levels.
UK-wide recycling rates need to increase to 70% by 2030 with Wales and Scotland achieving this by 2025. The CCC said anaerobic digestion and composting would play an important part in recycling food and garden wastes, helping enable a ban on all biodegradable waste going to landfill by 2025.
The committee said its message to government was that “the 2020s must be the decisive decade of progress and action on climate change”.
It stated: “By the early 2030s, every new car and van, and every replacement boiler must be zero-carbon; by 2035, all UK electricity production will be zero carbon. Modern low-carbon industries will grow; producing hydrogen; capturing carbon; creating new woodlands; renovating and decarbonising the UK’s 28 million homes. These provide hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the UK.”
The Climate Change Act requires the UK government to set a new carbon budget every five years, following the advice of the Climate Change Committee. The sixth carbon budget must be legislated by June 2021.