Some 15% of planet-warming emissions come from the keeping and eating of cows, chickens, pigs and other animals – more than the emissions from the entire transport sector. Not only do livestock emit methane, but land clearing and fertilizers for animal feed release large quantities of carbon.
Today China has about 19% of the world’s population and consumes 28% of global meat including half of the pork. The average American and Australian consumes twice as much meat per person in comparison.
This year the Chinese government has outlined a plan to reduce its citizens’ meat consumption by 50%, in an effort to slow runaway global warming, obesity and diabetes. See: China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered.
New dietary guidelines drawn up by China’s health ministry recommend that the nation’s 1.3 billion population should consume between 40g to 75g of meat per person each day. The measures, released once every 10 years, are designed to improve public health but could also provide a significant cut to greenhouse gas emissions.
According to a new report by WildAid, the predicted increase in China’s meat consumption would add an extra 233m tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year, as well as put increased strain on the country’s water supply, which is already blighted by polluted and denuded rivers and groundwater.
The report warns that unchecked Chinese meat consumption will also degrade its arable land and worsen the country’s problems with obesity and diabetes. An estimated 100 million Chinese people have diabetes, more than any other country.
Research released by the thinktank Chatham House in 2014 forecast that China alone is expected to eat 20m tonnes more of meat and dairy a year by 2020 and warned that “dietary change is essential” if global warming is to not exceed the 2C limit eventually imposed at the climate accord in Paris last year.
A separate report by scientists at the Oxford Martin School this year found that the widespread adoption of vegetarianism around the world could bring down greenhouse gas emissions by nearly two-thirds.