China is encouraging its citizens to eat less meat – and that could be a big win for the climate
Via the Washington Post:
An updated set of dietary guidelines just released by the Chinese government could be a boon not only for public health, say some environmentalists, but also for the environment. They’re arguing that the new recommendations have the potential to reduce China’s meat consumption, or at least slow its growth, which can help save land and water resources and put a substantial dent in global greenhouse gas emissions.
The actual differences between the new guidelines and the previous ones, which were released in 2007, are slim. Both recommend an upper limit on meat and poultry consumption of 75 grams per day — but the new guidelines reduce the lower daily value from 50 grams to 40 grams. Altogether, the guidelines suggest limiting meat, poultry, fish and dairy consumption to 200 grams daily.
The real problem is that average meat consumption in China is still higher than either the old or the new guidelines recommend. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), daily meat and dairy consumption in China still averages more than 300 grams per day — and that value is expected to keep increasing over the next few decades. The country’s meat consumption alone comes to about 62 kilograms per capita annually, while the dietary guidelines would limit it to just over 27 kilograms.
If such reductions were to actually occur, it could be a major win for the environment. Agriculture is one of the primary contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of methane and nitrous oxide — when forestry and other land use changes are factored in, the agriculture sector may account for as much as a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, a recent study suggested that farm emissions need to fall by a billion tons per year by the year 2030 if we’re to meet our global climate goals under the Paris Agreement.
The meat industry — and particularly beef production — is one of the biggest culprits. In addition to the huge amounts of land, water and food required to raise livestock, cattle are infamous for belching large quantities of methane into the atmosphere. And cattle raising, in particular, is known for being a major contributor to deforestation, which also drives up global carbon emissions.