Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary
Affluent Diets and Climate Change
About the Cyberlibrary
The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary was developed by Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich on behalf of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the International Institute for Environment and Development, with sponsorship from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
While every effort is made to ensure that information on this site, and on other sites that are referenced here, is accurate, no liability for loss or damage resulting from use of this information can be accepted.
Globally, food production accounts for at least a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. A recent Food and Agriculture Organization report estimates that the biggest share of this - 18 per cent of total global emissions - comes from livestock.
The tendency for populations to consume more animal products as they become richer has been strong. Predictions based on "business as usual" assumptions are for a doubling of global livestock production by mid century, mainly in response to rising incomes in low- and middle-income countries.
But it will not be possible for this business to continue "as usual". The only geopolitically feasible path to dietary sustainability is "contraction" of ecologically disruptive production for high-income countries to make room for some upward "convergence" in low- and middle-income countries.
Global average meat consumption is now about 100 grams per person per day. This is consumption in the economic sense of "using up" and includes waste. The corresponding level of intake is probably about 70 to 80 grams per day. If, by 2050, the population increases by 40 per cent and mitigation (reduction in GHG emissions per unit product) improves by 20 per cent, then mean global meat consumption would need to fall slightly to around 90 grams per day. This means more than halving average consumption levels in high-income countries.
Achieving these modest but necessary objectives will require radical changes. Reducing consumption of red meat, which makes the heaviest environmental demands, will help. Within high-income countries, an appreciable minority already have a pattern of low red meat consumption. This could be generalized to the whole population.
Reducing consumption of red meat is also likely to bring health benefits, yielding a double dividend for those who make the change. A large United States National Institutes of Health-sponsored study has compared high and low red meat consumers (who turned out to have similar white meat intakes). The low consumers enjoyed a mortality advantage of about one quarter.
If our planet can only sustain a limited number of livestock, making room for higher consumption of milk, eggs and meat in low- income countries should be an important goal of global climate change policy.
Undernutrition remains the leading cause of lost healthy life globally. Increasing the supply of animal foods in the diets of growing children in poor countries will be central to the achievement of further health gains. Increasing animal protein intake in adults (in countries where it has been very low) should also lower the risk of stroke - a major cause of premature death and disability.
Diet, of both rich and poor, should be central to climate change policy.
John Powles, Department of Public Health & Primary Care, Institute of Public Health, University Forvie Site, Robinson Way, Cambridge CB2 0SR, United Kingdom. Email: email@example.com. Web: www.phpc.cam.ac.uk.
On the Web
The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary lists selected websites concerning human health and climate change.
General Electric plans to cut solar installation costs by half
Project 90 by 2030 supports South African school children and managers reduce their carbon footprint through its Club programme
Bath & North East Somerset Council in the United Kingdom has installed smart LED carriageway lighting that automatically adjusts to light and traffic levels
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Public Gardens Association are mounting an educational exhibit at Longwood Gardens showing the link between temperature and planting zones
The energy-efficient Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers hotel is powered by renewable and sustainable sources, including integrated solar photovoltaics and guest-powered bicycles
El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands, plans to generate 80 per cent of its energy from renewable sources
The green roof on the Remarkables Primary School in New Zealand reduces stormwater runoff, provides insulation and doubles as an outdoor classroom
The Weather Info for All project aims to roll out up to five thousand automatic weather observation stations throughout Africa
SolSource turns its own waste heat into electricity or stores it in thermal fabrics, harnessing the sun's energy for cooking and electricity for low-income families
The Wave House uses vegetation for its architectural and environmental qualities, and especially in terms of thermal insulation
The Mbale compost-processing plant in Uganda produces cheaper fertilizer and reduces greenhouse gas emissions
At Casa Grande, Frito-Lay has reduced energy consumption by nearly a fifth since 2006 by, amongst other things, installing a heat recovery system to preheat cooking oil