A new report by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says strategies to mitigate climate change will fall short if they do not include near-term plans to overhaul farming practices and reduce meat consumption on a large scale.
The report’s Summary for Policymakers points out that food solutions to climate change, such as replacing animal products with plants, have several key benefits. They would contribute to “eradicating poverty and eliminating hunger while promoting good health and wellbeing, clean water and sanitation, climate action, and life on land.”
We need action now.
The report makes clear that dietary shifts to plant-based foods, and other such mitigations measures need to happen very soon if they are to be effective. Waiting until later would mean millions more people would be at risk of facing climate extremes, desertification, land degradation, and food and livelihood insecurity.
Here's what our governments can do.
The report states that governments can play an important role by introducing policies that support better food options. The policy options it highlights echo those outlined in a 2015 Chatham House report, and include ensuring diversity in publicly procured foods (e.g. in prisons), and awareness-raising campaigns to reduce meat consumption.
One way the report suggests that governments raise awareness is “through promoting diets based on public health guidelines.” In Canada, this could be particularly effective, as our new Food Guide recommends that Canadians “eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods,” and that we “choose protein foods that come from plants more often.”
A government-led dietary shift would be good for our bodies as well as our planet. According to the report, which was compiled by over 100 experts from around the world, per capita meat supply has doubled globally since 1961, and has contributed to over 2 billion adults now being overweight or obese. And recent studies have added to the growing body of evidence showing that plant-based diets are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.
Where do we go from here?
The Plant-based Policy Centre is asking Canadians to contact the government’s Department of Environment and Climate Change, and ask them to include plant-based food in its Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.
Our federal climate change strategy must include plans for comprehensive, effective public messaging campaigns about the impact of dietary choices on climate. It should also officially recognize plant-based food innovations as “clean technologies.” This would help encourage more public investment in Canada’s growing value-added plant-based protein industry, and funding to transition workers in animal agriculture to more sustainable jobs.
These policies make good sense, and as this report makes clear, we do not have time to waste.