China’s ministry of health has issued new guidelines calling on the country’s 1.3 billion people to cut their meat consumption 50% by 2030, a move that would combat obesity and diabetes while reducing greenhouse emissions from the Chinese livestock industry by a billion tonnes.
“Tackling climate change involves scientific judgement, political decisions, entrepreneurial support, but at last, it still relies on involvement of the general public to change consumption behaviour,” said Li Junfeng, director general of China’s National Center on Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation. “Through this kind of lifestyle change, it is expected that the livestock industry will transform and carbon emissions will be reduced.”
China’s meat consumption has grown from 13 to 63 kilograms per person since 1982, and will increase to 93 kilograms per person by 2030 if no action is taken. The industry’s projected emissions in that year would hit 1.8 billion tonnes. China now accounts for 28% of global meat consumption, and 50% of all pork, even though the country “still lags behind more than a dozen other countries in per capita meat consumption,” The Guardian reports. Americans and Australian consume twice as much meat per capita.
China’s announcement comes on the heels of a United Nations report last week, showing that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture grew by more than 1% in 2014, driven in part by growing global demand for meat.
“Meat consumption is high in countries like the U.S. and is growing rapidly in China and other parts of the developing world,” said Stanford University Prof. Robert Jackson. “Higher meat consumption means greater agricultural emissions.”
“The opportunities to improve management and decrease emissions are still very important for agriculture, even if it’s not the biggest piece of this pie,” added the University of Minnesota’s James Gerber. He said the farm sector can reduce emissions by applying fertilizer more precisely, changing rice growing practices, and reducing food waste.
The Guardian notes that livestock production accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the transportation sector. “Livestock emit methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas,” the paper reports, “while land clearing and fertilizers release large quantities of carbon.” Climate Central cites rice farming as another significant source of methane emissions.