We must change what we eat to solve the climate crisis, say researchers from an international team led by the University of Oxford.
The results of the new study warn that even if global fossil fuel emissions were stopped with immediate effect, emissions derived from food production and waste alone could push global temperature increases above 1.5°C and cause the goals set out in the Paris Agreement to be missed.
The study says the human race needs to change what it eats, reduce the amount it consumes, tackle waste and produce food more sustainably – it notes that the main way emissions can be reduced from food systems is by shifting away from meat and adopting plant-based diets – animal agriculture is generally highly emissions-intensive.
The research predicts emissions from food systems will surpass the 1.5°C target in between 30 and 45 years if current trends and behaviours continue, potentially exceeding the 2°C target within 90 years – this is even if all other sources of greenhouse gas emissions are ceased immediately.
If other sources of greenhouse gases are phased out on a timeline to reach net zero by 2050, the 1.5°C target could be surpassed in as soon as a decade.
Dr Michael Clark from the Oxford Martin School and Nuffield Department of Population Health led the study – he said: “Discussions on mitigating climate change typically focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, for instance, from transportation or energy production. However, our research emphasises the importance of reducing emissions from the global food system.
“The good news is, there are many achievable ways rapidly to reduce food emissions if they are acted on quickly. These include both raising crop yields and reducing food loss and waste, but the most important is for individuals to shift towards predominantly plant-based diets.”
The researchers also highlight that shifting to vegan or vegetarian diets would also reduce water pollution, increase biodiversity and improve human health.