Switching away from meat to plant-based diet will help tackle climate change, UN report says

  • Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke

Switching away from meat to a plant-based diet is crucial to fighting climate change, according to a report by UN experts.

The study calls for more sustainable farming and replanting forests in a bid to cut climate emissions and help secure future food supplies.

Scientists argue in the report that more people can be fed using a smaller amount of land when a plant-based diet is adopted.

Charles Godfray, who works at Oxford University, told ITV News "we have to act now" when it comes to climate change.

He said: "The kids demonstrating in the streets and in Extinction Rebellion, they have a point that certainly my generation needs to wake up to."

Mr Godfray added: "It is urgent that we reassess our diets and in facts that we reassess all our activities that are affecting climate change and actually not only climate change but other effects that are having an effect on the climate.

"We are reaching a point where it is just impossible to ignore and if we do ignore we will undermine the the capacity to have the good life we enjoy at least in many parts of the world today."

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Carbon emissions can also be slashed, which reduces the impact of global warming, the report adds.

The report was developed by 107 scientists for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Debra Roberts, co-chair of body, said: “Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change."

Growing crops, raising livestock and cutting down forest accounted for 23 per cent of greenhouse gases between 2006 and 2017. Credit: PA

However how people use land is also impacting on global warming.

Growing crops, raising livestock and cutting down forest accounted for 23 per cent of greenhouse gases between 2006 and 2017.

What else should be done to protect the planet?

Land is already under pressure, with around 70 per cent of the world's ice-free land affected by human activity, the study said.

Climate change is driving more problems by turning hospitable land int desert, soil and even causing coastal erosion.

Last year, the international body called for the world to become carbon-neutral by 2050 to limit the danger of global warming.

Experts have echoed their calls for swift action to curb emissions, help nature and ensure food security.

Dr Jo House, from the University of Bristol, said: “We have to look after the land, the land is doing many things for us and we need to support the land for it to continue to do that.”

Professor Jim Skea, from Imperial College London, said: “The human race has been rather abusing it and we need to look after it for our own benefit as well.

“Land is already struggling under pressures we put on it at the moment. The issue is climate change is adding to all the other burdens we put on the land system.”

And he said: “There’s a lot of actions that can be taken for the land sector to help with climate change, there are many ways of managing it to reduce the impacts of land and bring benefits like building up soil carbon.”

He added: “In the past we’ve often thought dealing with climate change is about renewable energy and energy efficiency, but this is bringing land much more into the foreground.”

What do the figures show us?

According to the study:

  • Around 13 per cent of CO2 between 2007 and 2016 was caused by human uses of land, mostly cutting down forests

  • Land accounted for 44 per cent of methane emissions, such as use for livestock

  • Around 25 to 30 per cent of all food produced is lost or wasted, which contributes to more greenhouse gases

  • 82 per cent of nitrous oxide emissions come from fertilisers for crops and livestock

  • Greenhouse gases must be slashed from all sectors to keep global warming to well below 2C or 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.