The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body charged with assessing the science related to climate change, recently released its latest report.
Despite the limited reference to plant-based eating in the latest summary for policymakers, as well as attempts in years past to limit language on plant-based diets, the UN climate crisis report stresses the importance of reducing emissions across all sectors—including from food systems. Clarifying that a 1.1°C increase in temperature had already occurred, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the report “a survival guide for humanity.” With calls for urgent and ambitious climate action, the IPCC’s full assessment report (which includes reports released from 2021 to now) clearly demonstrates the links between climate change, food systems, and animal agriculture.
Animal agriculture is a significant source of global emissions, worsening the climate crisis and causing suffering to people and animals alike. But transforming our food systems—and shifting toward more plant-based food in particular—can be a powerful solution to reduce global emissions and secure a more livable future.
Here are five key takeaways the IPCC report says about food systems:
1. Transforming our food systems is critical to achieving goals laid out in the Paris Agreement
The global food system contributes nearly one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, and animal agriculture is a major part of the problem. Because farmers must clear countless acres of land for pasture space and to grow feed crops, animal agriculture is a huge driver of deforestation. It is also a leading source of methane, a greenhouse gas tens of times more potent than carbon dioxide.
2. Changing what we eat can significantly reduce emissions.
Shifting toward more plant-based diets can help make critical reductions in emissions, along with benefiting human health, biodiversity, and animal welfare. According to the report, regarding what individuals can do to reduce global emissions, “the greatest Shift potential would come from switching to plant-based diets.”
3. Droughts, floods, and other climate calamities will continue to impact food production.
Climate-change-induced heat, droughts, and floods are already impacting crops. By the end of the century, up to a third of existing areas suitable for growing crops and raising farmed animals will no longer be usable.
Rising temperatures can also cause heat stress in farmed animals, leaving them more susceptible to disease. In the ocean, warming surface-water temperatures can lead to mass deaths of marine animals and increase the likelihood of foodborne illness from eating fish contaminated with bacteria and toxins.
4. Reducing our consumption of animal products can help us cope with climate impacts.
Around the world, people, animals, and ecosystems are suffering from the increased frequency and intensity of extreme climate-related events. Animal agriculture makes this worse by straining land and water resources and contributing to disease risks. For example, raising animals for food uses vast amounts of the global freshwater supply, and cattle are predicted to consume more water as temperatures rise. Shifting toward a plant-based food system can help reduce these impacts and contribute to food security and the health of the planet.
5. Alternative proteins have potential climate and environmental benefits.
Replacing animal products with alternatives, such as plant-based meat and milk, has the potential to vastly reduce food-system emissions, particularly when alternative proteins are produced using low-carbon energy. The report also notes that these foods “have lower land, water, and nutrient footprints, and address concerns over animal welfare.”
The findings are clear: Urgent action is needed, and we have the knowledge and tools to reduce emissions now. We must act at all levels, as individuals, communities, and governments. By shifting toward more climate-friendly plant-based diets, we can protect our environment and build a better future for us all. Download Mercy For Animals’ FREE How to Eat Veg guide, and start making a difference today.