‘Net zero’ requires 20% drop in meat eating

A UK target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 can only be achieved by shifting towards healthier diets with reduced consumption of beef, lamb and dairy products.

That’s according to the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) which this week released its much-anticipated report recommending the government adopts new targets for net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to deliver on the commitment the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement.

The CCC said a net-zero GHG target for 2050 is achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people’s lives. These include eating a healthy diet containing less beef, lamb and dairy, eliminating food waste as far as possible, and reducing, reusing and recycling other waste.

It added that net zero would only be possible if clear, stable and well-designed policies to reduce emissions further are introduced across the economy without delay, noting that current policy is insufficient to achieve even the existing targets of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.

Dietary change is one of the new targets the CCC said would need to happen for the UK to go beyond the current 80% reduction target in order to reach net zero. Its modelling requires a 20% shift away from beef, lamb and dairy towards healthier diets and includes a small increase in other meats like pork and chicken.

The reduction is still less than the scale of dietary change that would be required to meet the government’s EatWell Guide; however it would require a faster shift in consumption than is currently underway.

The CCC’s scenario planning also involves a fifth of UK agricultural land shifting to tree planting, energy crops and peatland restoration.

In Scotland, the CCC is recommending a net-zero date of 2045, reflecting Scotland’s greater relative capacity to remove emissions than the UK as a whole.

In Wales, it is recommending a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, reflecting the prevalence of sheep farming.

Business groups and companies welcomed the scale of the ambition set out in the report. “Recent protests have shown the strength of public passion and sense of urgency that the UK should do all it can to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, on society, the economy and the environment,” said Rain Newton-Smith, CBI chief economist. “What we need now is a supportive and timely response from the UK government to enact this ambitious target, so businesses and the public can get on with reaching it.”

Coca Cola said it was already investing in the transition to a low carbon future. “We have reduced the carbon impact of our core operations by 62% since 2010 but we know there is much more to do across all of society,” said Nick Brown, head of sustainability for Great Britain at Coca-Cola European Partners. “A clear sense of direction from the government’s policies on climate change is vital to allow everyone in business to plan for a zero-carbon future.”

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