It is that time of the year when people gather to make merry and feast. As is tradition among many people across the globe, a variety of meats such as chicken, turkey, fish, and beef will be served.
Scientists are worried about the increasing demand for meat in the world an issue that has attracted studies to clearly show the relationship between the demand for meat and climate change.
A report released by the Food Climate Research Network (FRCN) at the University of Oxford named 'Grazed and Confused' illuminates on the controversial impact that grass-fed animals have on climate change, presenting a new perspective around livestock farming and meat and dairy consumption.
Some studies in the past have posited that when livestock graze they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, claims which the study argue that, though true, there are upsetting consequences that come with it. Moreover, the process is time constrained and unsustainable.
Commenting on the findings Dr.Tara Garnett co-author and founder of the FCRN noted that the “grass-fed livestock are not a climate solution. Grazing livestock are net contributors to the climate problem, as are all livestock. Rising animal production and consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type is causing damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land use.”
To curb this, more deliberate measures have to be employed including eating less meat, the report advises.
“Ultimately, if high consuming individuals and countries want to do something positive for the climate, maintaining their current consumption levels but simply switching to grass-fed beef is not a solution. Eating less meat, of all types, is,” the report’s authors Dr Tara and Pete Smith of the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom say.
Researchers estimate that livestock is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions. Other than methane emitted by animals in amounts that have adversely affected the ozone layer, they also emit carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, which also have a negative effect on the environment. And as people continue to increase, the global demand for animal products is expected to shoot. Currently, the demand stands at 14 grams per person per day, and is expected to more than double by 2050.
With more people eating meat, farmers will be forced to expand their stocks which consequently will affect the climate even further. As a global concern, various actions have been put in place to address climate change including being part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, held in Paris, France puts stamp on the importance of tackling the crisis in the next thirteen years, (2030), the set timeline for the SDGs.
The ambitious Paris climate deal requires signatory countries to minimize activities which could lead to the increase in the global temperatures. According to the agreement, the goal is to hold “the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels ..."
Already, global average temperatures have risen about 1 degree C relative to pre-industrial levels. Although maintaining the temperatures below 2 degrees C, still has a substantial impact, experts say it will be less upsetting than having the temperatures shoot unchecked.
In fact, in the long run, the bigger picture is to eventually ensure that global temperatures do not exceed 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Thus, even the ‘smallest of actions’ -take for example cutting down on meat consumption- are important in reaching the end result- to minimize global warming.
It is no doubt that mitigation interventions need to be tailored to local objectives and conditions. In terms of dealing with climate change brought about by livestock, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, notes that “the greatest promise involves improving animal and herd efficiency.
“This includes using better feeds and feeding techniques, which can reduce methane (CH4) generated during digestion as well as the amount of CH4 and nitrous oxide (N2O) released by decomposing manure.”
Moreover, keeping fewer but more productive animals is one way to help in tackling the issue. Manure management should also be done in such a way that it “ensures recovery and recycling of nutrients and energy, plus the use of energy saving devices, also have a role to play.”
Finally, FAO recommends better management of grazing lands which could improve productivity and create carbon sinks with the potential to help offset livestock sector emissions.
On the contrary, FRCN’s report reiterates the need to reduce meat consumption as rising animal production regardless of the farming system and animal damages the ozone layer and destroys the land on which they live.