Eat less meat, says former Irish president

Mary Robinson wants developed countries to cut their consumption

Sheep and the mountains of Kerry in Ireland

Ireland’s former president, Mary Robinson, has called on developed countries to take responsibility for the damage wrought by fossil fuels on the rest of the world and eat less meat – or to give it up entirely.

The political heavyweight, who is not herself a vegetarian, made the comments at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa. Robinson, 72, was Ireland’s first female president, from 1990 to 1997, after which she spent five years as the UN high commissioner for human rights. Now 72, she was involved with negotiations ahead of the climate talks in Paris last year.

“We don’t need to consume as much as we have in the world,” she told delegates at the summit, where issues such as the environment were discussed by young leaders from 196 nations. “We have a world where there’s inequity and inequality. We can be simpler in the parts of the world that have benefited from fossil fuels.”

“We have to change, we cannot go on with business as usual. We need each of us to think about our carbon footprint. Eat less meat, or no meat at all. Become vegetarian or vegan. Let’s commit to the Paris agreement. Let’s commit to leave no one behind.”

Farmers in her native Ireland immediately criticised her comments, yet the UN itself already supports the drive towards a less meat-addicted world. A report by the UN Environment Programme in 2014 concluded that the increasingly populous planet needed to eat 60 per cent less meat to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Echoing Robinson’s plea that countries pull together on behalf of the common good, last month the US National Academy of Sciences warned that “the problem of human-caused climate change is real, serious and immediate, and … poses significant risk: to our ability to thrive and build a better future, to national security, to human health and food production, and to the interconnected web of living systems”.

Current politicians also agree with the former president that a dietary change is required to affect a planetary one. Stefan Eck, a German Independent MEP, told the European Parliament last week that it was time people moved away from “a destructive industrial model of food production fuelled by greed and without regard to sustainability. This alarming process is not only threatening traditional farming, more sustainable by definition, but the finite resources of our planet. A new course must be found.”