World Must Reach “Peak Meat” by 2030

Sharon Palmer

Even though more and more people are turning to a plant-based diet, scientists warn that the entire world needs to reach “peak meat” within the next ten years to better combat climate change effects.

If you’re thinking about how your diet impacts the planet, you might want to start with putting more plants on your plate and fewer animal foods. Scientists advocate for a renewed time frame for putting a halt to livestock production (otherwise known as “peak meat”), since animal sources, including dairy and meat, are responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions.

In a recent scientific consensus, researchers reported that CO2 emissions must be limited to 420 billion tons, and approximately 720 billion tons of CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere to limit global warming to 1·5°C. One of the most important steps to remove carbon from the atmosphere is to restore natural vegetation, such as forests. And activity on this front must begin right now in order to meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Livestock comes into play, as the sector has largely displaced natural carbon sinks (which sequester carbon), as well as occupies much of the land that needs to be restored. If animal agriculture were to continue with the business as usual model, this sector alone would account for 49% of the emissions budget for 1·5°C by 2030, according to the research team.

Since the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report in 1990, the production of meat, milk, and eggs increased from 758 million tons to 1247 million tons in 2017, and is projected to further increase, according to the report published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

One of the biggest targets for reducing the risk of global warming beyond 1·5°C or 2°C is to call out to high-income and middle-income countries to incorporate four measures into their commitments to the Paris Agreement, from 2020 moving forward. According to the scientists, these countries should declare a timeframe for peak livestock, during which production from each species would not continue to increase. Then, within the livestock sector they should identify the largest emissions sources and/or land occupiers and set reduction goals. Next, these countries should apply a best available food strategy to replace animal foods with foods that minimize environmental impact and maximize human health benefits, such as pulses, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Finally, when possible, the countries should repurpose land as a carbon sink by restoring native vegetation cover to its maximum carbon sequestration potential.

What can you do about these recent recommendations? You can fill your plate with more plants and fewer animals, supporting the current recommendations for planetary health.

Sources:

Harwatt H, Ripple WJ, Chaudhary A, et al. Scientists call for renewed Paris pledges to transform agriculture. Eat Lancet. 2019;4(1). doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30245-1.

Reynolds E. World must reach ‘peak meat’ by 2030 to meet climate change targets, scientists warn. CNN. Published December 12, 2019. Accessed February 6, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/12/world/peak-meat-2030-lancet-intl-scli-scn/index.html.

Read more about sustainable, plant-based eating here:

Climate Friendly Diets are Healthier
My Take on the EAT-Lancet Report on Sustainable, Healthy Diets
Many Health and Eco Impacts of Food Choices

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