Europe’s Animal Agriculture Drives Climate Change
Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Animal agriculture is a significant contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions and land use change which contribute to human-caused climate change. Humanity faces an uphill battle against our worse natures to rein in climate change in time to avoid total climate breakdown, and we won’t succeed without significant change to the animal agriculture sector.
A new report from Greenpeace draws from scientific studies and environmental agency publications to address the specific role of the European nations, their current complicity in human-generated climate change, and their power to move toward a more sustainable future by altering their animal agriculture practices.
The Paris Climate Agreement set a goal of arresting global temperatures at no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. U.N. Environment Programme scientists have concluded that to hit this target, we would need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2040. European leaders’ commitments fall short of this, aiming for only a 55% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050. Current policy and practice fall short of even these less ambitious commitments, leaving the climate future of the planet frightfully uncertain.
Animal agriculture is a huge contributor to climate change, both in Europe and globally. Agriculture produces 23% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and 70% of this comes from animal agriculture. Globally, the greenhouse gas emissions from the animal agriculture industry are roughly equivalent to the entire transport sector. From a land use perspective, 71% of agricultural land in the E.U. is used to grow food for animals, not humans. Between 1960 and 2011, 65% of global land use change was driven by animal agriculture. The increase in animal agriculture over the last decade has produced the same amount of greenhouse gas as adding 8.4 million cars to the roadways would have done.
Aside from climate degradation, animal farming contributes to a host of other problems, including forest destruction and loss of biodiversity. The industry also impacts human health directly. Heavy consumption of meat and dairy is linked to heart disease, some cancers, and type II diabetes. 73% of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, and industrial farming has been linked to the emergence and spread of viral disease.
Because of its enormous scale, animal farming visits great harm upon the climate. However, its enormity also means that changes to this sector can have a huge positive impact. A global reduction in animal farming and the implementation of dietary change could mean a 66% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2050. If we could manage to reduce E.U. animal agriculture production by 75%, we would achieve the same reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as if we were to halt all industrial processes (manufacturing, food processing, chemical and mineral processing, metal working, and pulp and paper production) in the E.U. This major reduction may be more feasible than you think, as the average European currently eats 60% more meat and dairy than the World Health Organization recommends. And a major reduction is necessary, because otherwise global agricultural emissions are projected to increase by 50% in coming decades.
To achieve a significant reduction in emissions from animal agriculture, Greenpeace recommends:
- E.U. leaders bring their targets in line with the more aggressive reductions recommended by the U.N. Environment Programme
- E.U. governments end subsidies for industrial farming and incentivise a shift back toward ecological farming
- Regulatory agencies cap livestock density, under penalty of losing subsidies
- The E.U. adopt measures to shift consumer demand away from meat and dairy and toward a more plant-rich diet
Animal agriculture emissions are an enormous problem to tackle, but if we can orchestrate a significant reduction, the resulting impact will be equally great.