Saturday

8th May 2021

UN report: eat less meat to combat climate crisis

  • EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan in 2017 - cutting ham in Spain (Photo: European Commission)

Tackling food waste and reducing meat consumption can contribute signicantly to staving off the worst effects of climate change, the United Nations' climate panel said in a report published Thursday (8 August).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that between 25 to 30 percent of all food produced is lost or wasted.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Then president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, at a barbecue in Lisbon in 2013 (Photo: European Parliament)

Global food waste and food loss was responsible for between eight and 10 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the atmosphere.

According to definitions by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, food loss is "any food that is lost in the supply chain between the producer and the market", while food waste refers to the discarding of food that is still safe and nutritious.

"Technical options such as improved harvesting techniques, on-farm storage, infrastructure, transport, packaging, retail and education can reduce food loss and waste across the supply chain," said the IPCC report.

In the EU, around 88m tonnes of food with an estimated value of €143bn is wasted every year.

Last year, EU member states agreed that they would reduce food waste and food loss.

But while they agreed that the EU would make a "contribution" towards achieving the UN sustainable development goal of halving global food waste per capita by 2030, the EU countries stopped short of adopting a specific reduction target for themselves.

The IPCC report also pointed out that changes in people's diets can bring significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Basically, replacing meat with plant-based products decreases someone's carbon footprint.

The IPCC estimated that such dietary changes could reduce global annual emissions by between 0.7 and eight gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2050. A gigatonne is a billion tonnes.

The figures in the report cited above were accompanied with the assessment that based on the available research, they could be presented with "medium confidence".

No forced vegetarianism

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 49.3 gigatonnes in 2016, with a bit more than four gigatonnes emitted in the EU.

"We don't want to tell people what to eat," IPCC climatologist Hans-Otto Portner told journalists.

"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."

The report gives some examples of what policymakers can do to reduce their citizens' meat consumption:

"Public health policies to improve nutrition, such as increasing the diversity of food sources in public procurement, health insurance, financial incentives, and awareness-raising campaigns, can potentially influence food demand, reduce healthcare costs, contribute to lower GHG emissions and enhance adaptive capacity," said the report, adding that this statement was made with "high confidence".

The EU institutions in Brussels themselves still have a long way to go in that regard.

While some of their canteens sport posters informing customers of their carbon footprint, the food that is served is still predominantly meat-based.

There has however been a long taboo among EU policymakers to discuss the climate impact of citizens' diets.

And earlier this year, EUobserver revealed how the EU has allocated around €71.5m in three years on programmes promoting European meat.

Interview

EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat

Chatham House research fellow Laura Wellesley discusses her new report, which looked at how alternative meat products are regulated. 'It's not about everybody becoming vegan,' she said.

Meat 'taboo' debated at Bonn climate summit

Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but until recently it 'was an issue that was really brushed under the carpet'.

EU serves up soft proposals on food waste

In its Circular Economy strategy paper, published earlier this month, the EU Commission says nothing about a previously announced target to reduce food waste by 2025.

NGOs expose rights abuses in EU supermarket supply chains

A new report from Oxfam reveals that many of the people producing the food on sale in European supermarkets are victims of poverty pay, harsh working conditions, gender discrimination, and human rights abuses.

Opinion

When is a 'veggie burger' not a veggie burger? Ask MEPs

A ban on using meat names such as "burger" or "sausage" for vegetarian products goes against consumers' choices for more sustainable food. Plant-based foods usually have a significantly lower climate and environmental impact compared to animal-based foods, such as meat.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Czech minister plotted to bury evidence on Russian attack
  2. Putin promotes Russia's 'Kalashnikov-like' vaccine
  3. Coronavirus: Indian variant clusters found across England
  4. UN report encourages EU methane cuts
  5. EU court upholds ban on bee-harming pesticides
  6. Israeli tourists welcomed back by EU
  7. EU duped into funding terrorist group, Israel says
  8. Brussels prepares portfolio of potential Covid-19 treatments

EU faces long wait for full vaccine supplies

The EU is still several months away from having enough vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people, with Pfizer and BioNTech, its principle suppliers, aiming for September for delivery targets.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. MEPs win battle for bigger citizens' voice at Conference
  2. Hungary gags EU ministers on China
  3. Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit
  4. EU preparing to send soldiers to Mozambique
  5. EU now 'open' to vaccine waiver, after Biden U-turn
  6. EU mulls using new 'peace' fund to help Libyan coast guard
  7. Poland 'breaks EU law' over judges, EU court opinion says
  8. 11 EU states want to cut fossil-fuels from cross-border projects

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us