Shifting to plant-based diets could cut CO2 emissions by 8bn tonnes a year

8 Aug 2019

Image: © Grecaud Paul/

Our diets are far too reliant on meat consumption and a more plant-based diet would cut billions of tonnes of CO2 per year, a UN report has found.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of the UN, has released its latest report that shines an uncomfortable spotlight on the world’s demand for meat. As reported by The Times, the report said that a combination of cutting food waste and eating less meat will be a crucial part in our efforts to curb the climate crisis.

The report is a vast document written by 107 experts from across 52 countries – the majority of which were from developing nations – and based on a review of more than 7,000 studies. The findings of this report show that between 25pc and 30pc of global food production gets wasted, accounting for between 8pc and 10pc of greenhouse gas emissions.

One potential solution to cutting this drastically would be for the world’s population to make the change to a largely plant-based diet. In doing so, this could cut emissions by up to 8bn tonnes per year, while any food sourced from animals should come from “resilient, sustainable and low greenhouse gas emission systems”.

The report showed that approximately 500m people are now living in areas experiencing desertification with the intensity of dust storms in these areas increasing substantially over the past few decades. If deforestation continues to increase in the Amazon, the authors wrote, then the region could turn into a desert unleashing 50bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in the coming decades.

‘We don’t want to tell people what to eat’

Priyadarshi Shukla, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III, said that while a global issue, some regions are to be hit worse than others.

“We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

At the launch press conference this morning (8 August), ecologist and co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, Hans-Otto Pörtner, was not hiding who the message of eating less meat was targeted at.

“We don’t want to tell people what to eat,” he said. “But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.”

On the topic of deforestation, Pörtner again emphasised the importance of government action: “Unfortunately, some countries don’t seem to understand the dire need of stopping deforestation in the tropics.

“We cannot force any government to interfere. But we hope that our report will sufficiently influence public opinion to that effect.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic