Last month, the world’s leading body of climate scientists, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published the fourth and final installment of a rigorous multi-year assessment that marks their most dire and urgent climate analysis to date. The report synthesizes scientists’ key findings, predictions, and recommendations for the best ways to reduce global heating and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
In the assessment’s third installment, published in 2022, the scientists urged a switch to plant-based diets as the single most important shift we as individuals can make to halt the course of climate disasters.
In the 35 years since the United Nations first convened the body of global climate experts, this was the first time an IPCC report focused on the importance of demand-side mitigation potential; that is, the crucial role individual choices can play in urgently needed emissions reductions. They grouped these choices into three categories of action: Avoid, Improve, and Shift.
The report noted, “The greatest Avoid potential comes from reducing long-haul aviation and providing short-distance low-carbon urban infrastructures,” while “The greatest Improve potential comes from within the building sector, in particular increased use of energy-efficient end-use technologies and passive housing.” And “The greatest Shift potential would come from switching to plant-based diets.”
The UN convened the IPCC in 1988, and this is the sixth climate assessment report the group of climate scientists has released. Analyzing the frequency and intensity of climate-driven disasters around the globe, the recommendations of each report have become more urgent, as both documented and projected impacts become increasingly dire. In a 2018 report, the IPCC sounded the alarm that global greenhouse gas emissions must be halved by 2030 from 2010 levels in order to have any real shot at limiting warming to 1.5C. Beyond that threshold, scientists warn, Earth’s natural systems and ecosystems will be irreversibly altered, with weather extremes and climate catastrophes surpassing our (and many other) species’ ability to adapt. Without swift and substantial emissions reductions in this decade, heat waves, famines, floods, droughts, and infectious diseases stemming from warming will likely claim millions of additional lives by the end of the century. Yet emissions have only continued to rise.
Meat and Dairy Bury Science, Earth With It
As the science on climate and diet has become unequivocal— specifically, the outsized contribution of animal farming to global emissions— the meat and dairy industries have colluded to dilute or even bury scientific assessments recommending plant-based diets.
While the third installment of the IPCC’s latest assessment was clear in urging a shift to plant-based diets, in the final synthesis report released last month, the scientists’ language had been watered down. A leaked version of the original report draft includes the following text:
A shift to diets with a higher share of plant-based protein in regions with excess consumption of calories and animal-source food can lead to substantial reductions in GHG emissions… Plant-based diets can reduce GHG emissions by up to 50% compared to the average emission intensive Western diet.
But after the scientists released the draft for review, delegates (not scientists) from Argentina and Brazil, two of the largest beef producers after the U.S., aggressively lobbied for the deletion of “plant-based,” and the above was changed to:
“Balanced and sustainable healthy diets and reduced food loss and waste present important opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of biodiversity and human health.”
Corrupt interventions like these are particularly galling when we consider that cattle ranching is the leading driver of destruction of the Amazon rainforest, responsible for 80% of deforestation there. Meanwhile, the International Labor Organisation and the Inter-American Development Bank have estimated that a transition to a more plant-based food system would create 15 million jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2030.
What You Can Do
Despite the meat and dairy industries’ attempts to obfuscate and greenwash facts, the science is clear: if you care about the planet, it’s time to embrace a plant-based diet. As IPCC scientists previously noted, “In addition to climate mitigation gains, a transition towards more plant-based consumption and reduced consumption of animal-based foods, particularly from ruminant animals, could reduce pressure on forests and land used for feed, support the preservation of biodiversity and planetary health, and contribute to preventing forms of malnutrition (i.e. undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, and obesity) in developing countries. Other co-benefits include lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and reducing mortality from diet-related non-communicable diseases.”
To help mobilize the shift to a more sustainable plant-based food system, A Well-Fed World created the free Climate-Friendly Food Guide.
This colorful, user-friendly resource explains the immense climate benefits of plant-based food choices, the harms of even the so-called “greenest” forms of animal-based food production, and includes helpful tips, recipes, statistics, food swaps, and more.
Download your free PDF of the Climate-Friendly Food Guide here, where you can also read it in a fun, reader-friendly flip-book form.
And learn more about meat and dairy greenwashing at our companion website, GrazingFacts.com.