Less meat “could halve climate costs”

Cutting back on meat could reduce the cost of fighting climate change by US$20 trillion, according to Dutch researchers in a study cited by New Scientist magazine. The study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency examined the economic cost of modern meat-rich diets.


Reducing intake of beef and pork would lead to the creation of a huge new carbon sink, the Dutch team found, because vegetation would thrive on unused farmland. Millions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, also would be saved annually thanks to reduced emissions from farms.


These impacts would lessen the need for expensive carbon-saving technologies, such as “clean coal” power plants, according to Elke Stehfest and her colleagues, and thereby save huge sums of money. Climate-change experts have warned of the high carbon cost of meat – particularly beef — for several years.


Stehfest estimates that if eating habits do not change, emissions would have to be cut by two-third by 2050, at a likely cost of about US$40 trillion. If, however, the global population moved to a low-meat diet – defined as 70 grammes of beef and 325 grammes of chicken and eggs per week – about 15 million square kilometres of farmland would be freed up.


Greenhouse gas emissions also would fall by 10% due to the drop in livestock numbers, Stehfest calculates. Together, she says, these impacts would halve the costs of dealing with climate change by 2050.


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