New Reports Stress Diet Change to Combat the Climate Crisis

Just days ahead of the annual UN climate talks (COP27), taking place now in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released their Emissions Gap Report 2022. UNEP joins the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—who released their Climate Change 2022 assessment report earlier this year—in demonstrating the crucial role of diet change in combating the climate crisis.

While both reports stress the urgency of the current crisis, the gap report explains that “we are in a climate emergency”: 

Incremental change is no longer an option: broad-based economy-wide transformations are required to avoid closing the window of opportunity. … Every fraction of a degree matters.

In good news, the IPCC report shows that across all sectors—food, industry, electricity, etc.—“demand-side strategies,” which aim to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions through changes in consumption (including behavioral change) and by avoiding, shifting, and improving emissions from certain systems, services, and practices, could reduce such emissions 40 to 70 percent by 2050. According to the IPCC, “the greatest ‘Shift’ potential would come from switching to plant-based diets.”

In fact, shifts to balanced, sustainable, healthy diets, along with avoidance of food waste and overconsumption, have significant potential to curb climate change. The IPCC reports that the “changes in land-use pattern enabled by this change in food demand” could lower global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by seven billion metric tons by 2050!  This represents nearly 12 percent of all 2019 global GHG emissions.

UNEP’s report confirms the critical importance of addressing emissions from the food system, including transforming eating patterns: “The food system is currently responsible for about a third of total GHG emissions. … Any climate stabilization pathway requires a substantial reduction in emissions from food systems.” The report also states: 

The production of meat has more than quadrupled since the 1960s and over recent years has been responsible for 54 percent of agricultural emissions. 

The gap report shows that demand-side changes—specifically shifts from animal-based foods and decreased food loss and waste—offer greater potential to curb climate change than ecosystem protections, farm improvements, or “decarbonizing” supply chains. To align with the Paris Agreement, transforming diets is “required,” and vegan diets show the greatest potential in achieving the 1.5°C goal.

Urgent Action Is Needed Now

Our time to address the climate crisis is quickly running out. Both the IPCC and UNEP clearly recognize the significant potential of diet change to stave off climate change. The UNFCCC must also recognize this shift toward plant-based eating as a significant and effective solution that is available today. 

On November 10, Egypt, in its role as COP27 president, will host a science day to reflect on the findings of landmark 2022 scientific reports, including those of UNEP and IPCC. Mercy For Animals will be there, raising awareness of the vital importance of addressing industrial animal agriculture and food-system transformation in battling the climate crisis. Stay on top of updates by following Mercy For Animals on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.