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Slash Meat Consumption and Avert Climate Catastrophe by 2050, Major Report Proposes

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A plant-based dish. Pexels

By Jessica Corbett

To feed the growing human population—projected to reach about 10 billion by 2050—while curbing planet-warming emissions to ward off climate catastrophe, people across the globe must significantly cut back on eating meat from cows, sheep and goats, according to a new study out Wednesday.


Limits on meat-eating are among 22 proposals from the report that, if simultaneously enacted, could achieve "meeting growing demands for food, avoiding deforestation, and reforesting or restoring abandoned and unproductive land—and in ways that help stabilize the climate, promote economic development, and reduce poverty."

Unveiled at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, Creating a Sustainable Food Future was produced by WRI in partnership with the World Bank, UN Environment, UN Development Program and a pair of French agricultural research agencies.

Attaining a "sustainable food future," the report says, will require closing three gaps:

  • The food gap: the difference between the amount of food produced now and what will be needed by 2050;
  • The land gap: the difference between agricultural land today and what will be required to produce enough food to feed the world's growing population; and
  • The greenhouse gas mitigation gap: the difference in planet-warming emissions expected to result from land use in 2050 and worldwide goals to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

Regardless of which solutions are pursued to close these gaps, the need for action is apparent.

As Tim Searchinger of the WRI and Princeton University put it, "If we tried to produce all the food needed in 2050 using today's production systems, the world would have to convert most of its remaining forest, and agriculture alone would produce almost twice the emissions allowable from all human activities."

While the report suggests that 2 billion people in countries that include Brazil, Russia and the U.S. cut their beef and lamb consumption by 40 percent—a lower reduction that some other studies have recommended—Searchinger told the Guardian, "We think that is a realistic goal," especially considering that "in the U.S. and Europe, beef consumption has already reduced by one-third from the 1960s until today."

The 22 proposals outlined in the report are divided into a "five-course menu":

"We have to change how we produce and consume food, not just for environmental reasons, but because this is an existential issue for humans," concluded Janet Ranganathan, report co-author and WRI's vice president for science and research.

The synthesis report mirrors previous findings, including a study published by Nature in October which called for overhauling the world's current food system by shifting toward more plant-based diets, improving technologies and management, and slashing global food waste.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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That's the conclusion of a new study from think tank Autonomy, which found that Germany, the UK and Sweden all needed to drastically reduce their workweeks to fight climate change.

"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."

The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.

The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.

The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.

"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."

Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.

"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."

Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.

"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."

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