Climate chief Lord Stern: give up meat to save the planet
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor
People will need to turn vegetarian if the world is to conquer climate change,
according to a leading authority on global warming.
In an interview
with The Times, Lord Stern of Brentford said: “Meat is a wasteful use of
water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on
the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”
Direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of
greenhouse gases. Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a
global warming gas.
Lord Stern, the author of the influential 2006 Stern Review on the cost of
tackling global warming, said that a successful deal at the Climate Change
Conference in Copenhagen in December would lead to soaring costs for meat
and other foods that generate large quantities of greenhouse gases.
He predicted that people’s attitudes would evolve until meat eating became
unacceptable. “I think it’s important that people think about what they are
doing and that includes what they are eating,” he said. “I am 61 now and
attitudes towards drinking and driving have changed radically since I was a
student. People change their notion of what is responsible. They will
increasingly ask about the carbon content of their food.”
Lord Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and now I. G. Patel
Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, warned that
British taxpayers would need to contribute about £3 billion a year by 2015
to help poor countries to cope with the inevitable impact of climate change.
He also issued a clear message to President Obama that he must attend the
meeting in Copenhagen in person in order for an effective deal to be
reached. US leadership, he said, was “desperately needed” to secure a deal.
He said that he was deeply concerned that popular opinion had so far failed to
grasp the scale of the changes needed to address climate change, or of the
importance of the UN meeting in Copenhagen from December 7 to December 18.
“I am not sure that people fully understand what we are talking about or the
kind of changes that will be necessary,” he added.
Up to 20,000 delegates from 192 countries are due to attend the UN conference
in the Danish capital. Its aim is to forge a deal to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions sufficiently to prevent an increase in global temperatures of more
than 2 degrees centigrade. Any increase above this level is expected to
trigger runaway climate change, threatening the lives of hundreds of
millions of people.
Lord Stern said that Copenhagen presented a unique opportunity for the world
to break free from its catastrophic current trajectory. He said that the
world needed to agree to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to 25
gigatonnes a year from the current level of 50 gigatonnes.
UN figures suggest that meat production is responsible for about 18 per cent
of global carbon emissions, including the destruction of forest land for
cattle ranching and the production of animal feeds such as soy.
Lord Stern, who said that he was not a strict vegetarian himself, was speaking
on the eve of an all-parliamentary debate on climate change. His remarks
provoked anger from the meat industry.
Jonathan Scurlock, of the National Farmers Union, said: “Going vegetarian is
not a worldwide solution. It’s not a view shared by the NFU. Farmers in this
country are interested in evidence-based policymaking. We don’t have a
methane-free cow or pig available to us.”
On average, a British person eats 50g of protein derived from meat each day —
the equivalent of a chicken breast or a lamb chop. This is a relatively low
level for a wealthy country but between 25 per cent and 50 per cent higher
than the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Su Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Vegetarian Society, welcomed Lord Stern’s
remarks. “What we choose to eat is one of the biggest factors in our
personal impact on the environment,” she said. “Meat uses up a lot of
resources and a vegetarian diet consumes a lot less land and water. One of
the best things you can do about climate change is reduce the amount of meat
in your diet.”
The UN has warned that meat consumption is on course to double by the middle
of the century.