People ‘have to turn to vegetarian or vegan diets' to stop climate change, UN report warns

Rob Waugh
Plates of vegetables and salad on a dining table.

People must switch from meat-heavy Western diets to vegetarian or vegan diets to avert climate change, a United Nations-backed report has warned.

By 2050, the world will need to produce 56% more food than in 2010, to feed a predicted 9.8 billion people.

If the level of meat and dairy consumption rises in line with current trends, 2.3 million square miles of forest will need to be converted for agriculture.

Our system of producing food already accounts for between 25-30% of greenhouse gases, the UN’s Creating a Sustainable Food Future report warned.

Johan Rockstrom, former director of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Change Impact Research, said: 'To have any chance of feeding 10 billion people in 2050 within planetary boundaries, we must adopt a healthy, plant-based diet, cut food waste, and invest in technologies that reduce environmental impacts.'

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If the world requires millions of extra square miles for food production, it will clash with planned schemes to limit global warming, including so-called 'bioenergy with carbon capture and storage', or BECCS schemes.

Limiting global warming to 1.5C would require 2.9 square million miles devoted to BECCS schemes, the researchers warned.

Stacks on the main carbon dioxide removal equipment are shown at the Tomakomai carbon, capture and storage (CCS) test site in Tomakomai, Hokkaido prefecture, Japan March 22, 2018. Picture taken March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron Sheldrick

A 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world is approaching a ‘tipping point’ from which there may be no going back.

United Nations' climate chief Patricia Espinosa told government representatives and UN officials meeting in Bonn, Germany, they were falling far short of what was needed to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030 to limit global warming.

However, some countries have announced new targets, such as Britain's goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and Chile's plan to become carbon neutral by 2050 and shut all coal plants by 2040.

Currently, five countries - including India and Costa Rica - have targets compatible with limiting a temperature rise to 2C, the Climate Action Tracker report said.

Ten more - including Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand - have plans compatible with a 3C limit; nine more - including Japan, China and Chile - have targets compatible with a 4C limit.

Five countries - Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States - have targets compatible with a world experiencing temperature rise above 4C, the report said.