Britons can meet 2050 zero-carbon target by eating less meat

Report by Committee on Climate Change spells out path to cutting emissions

The government’s official adviser on climate change has said that Britons should eat less meat to help the UK become zero-carbon by 2050. The ambitious new target follows a commitment signed at the Paris climate talks in 2016 that the UK would drastically reduce its carbon emissions.

As part of its advice on how individuals and the country as a whole can help cut greenhouse gas emissions, the Committee on Climate Change said it was important to consume less meat and animal products, and more plant-based foods. That’s because raising livestock for human consumption creates vast amounts of harmful greenhouse gases.

A move from a high-meat to a low-meat diet could help people cut food-related emissions by 35 per cent, the committee said. However, while the report made it clear that many are already cutting back on their intake, at current trends we’ll only be eating 20 per cent less meat by 2050, it said. Meat taxes have been mooted in the past, so that the price of meat better reflects its cost to the planet.

Campaigns such as Meat Free Monday have a massive role to play in educating people around the world about the joys of meat reducing and meat free eating, highlighting the fact that cutting back on meat consumption has health and environmental benefits across the board, and that eating more plant-based food opens up a whole new world of taste, flavour and nutrition. The committee’s chairman, Lord Deben, the former Tory MP John Gummer, echoed those sentiments at the launch of the report, saying: “We are not asking people to lead a miserable life. We are looking to having as fulfilled, as different, as various a life as we have today and to do it in a way in which we take respect for the future.”

The publication of the 277-page report comes at a time of heightened awareness about the damage being wrought on the natural world by humans. Last year, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the world had only 12 years to act to prevent catastrophic climate change. Demonstrations by the Extinction Rebellion over recent months have moved the issue up the political agenda and forced MPs and the media to take notice, and there have been a series of “school strikes” that saw pupils across the UK and the world downing pens in order to protest about political inaction over climate change.

Putting a price on the steps that would need to be taken to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the report said it would cost the UK about 1.3 per cent of GDP every year – a fraction of the cost of dealing with the consequences of runaway climate change after the fact. In April, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said banks had a duty to act on climate change as it poses an existential threat to the global financial system.

It remains to be seen whether the government will adopt all of the proposed measures, but business secretary Greg Clark sounded a positive if equivocal note. “This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming,” he said in a statement – which is not the same thing as saying the government would legislate to ensure the UK followed that path.

As well as eating less meat, other measures recommended in the report include turning thermostats down to 19C; phasing out petrol cars in favour of electric ones by 2035; phasing out coal power by 2020; doubling the rate of tree planting, to 116 square miles a year; cutting food waste; taking fewer flights, and applying carbon limits for the aviation and shipping industries.

Read the Committee on Climate Change report