Without a shift in meat and dairy consumption,
limiting global temperature rise to two degrees is unlikely, says a
new study by Chatham House.
The thinktank surveyed the meat and dairy
eating habits of thousands of people in very different parts of the
world. The findings show consumers underestimate the
contribution of meat and dairy production to climate change,
leading to them underestimate the effect that limiting meat and
dairy consumption can have on limiting
The sizeable footprint of meat and
The meat and dairy industry is responsible for 14.5 per cent of
global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than is produced by
all cars, trains, planes and ships in the world.
Livestock emissions come directly from animals, from
digestion and manure, and from transporting animals and producing
their feed. Greenhouse gases are also released when forests are
cleared to make way for pasture or for cropland in order to grow
Livestock sector emissions by source. Chatham
China is the biggest consumer of both meat and dairy products,
with the US, the EU and Brazil also in the top five. The top ten
largest meat and dairy consuming countries are shown in the chart
The top 10 largest meat consuming countries (top),
and the top 10 largest dairy and egg consuming countries (bottom)
in 2011. Chatham House.
A gap in awareness
The Chatham House polling asked people about
their consumption of meat and dairy and how they thought it might
impact the climate. It asked them to estimate what proportion of
manmade greenhouse gas emissions came from the meat and dairy
The survey also asked similar questions about
other sectors, with the results are shown in the chart below. Each
grey bar shows the percentage of respondents who think that
particular sector contributes ‘a lot’ to manmade climate change,
while the pink dot shows the actual share of emissions.
Percentage of respondents who answered ‘a lot’
when asked to estimate the contribution of each sector to climate
change (grey bars) and actual share of emissions (pink dots).
The survey results suggest that people
underestimate the contribution meat and dairy production makes to
greenhouse gas emissions.
Only 29 per cent of people think meat and dairy
production makes a large contribution to climate change – much
lower than for transport, heating and cooling buildings or treating
waste, which all have a smaller share of global
A quarter of respondents think meat and dairy
contribute either little or nothing to climate change. Emissions
rising from power stations or car exhausts are likely to be the
image people associate with greenhouse gases, rather than emissions
from the meat and dairy industry.
Willingness to change
These findings are important, the report authors
say, because people who are less aware of how meat and dairy
production contributes to climate change say they are less willing
to change their eating habits.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
suggests that the best chance of reducing emissions from livestock
is from people choosing to eat less meat and dairy.
The chart below shows how awareness influences
whether respondents are likely to take action to reduce their
emissions. The grey bars show the percentage of people who say they
wouldn’t take any action. These bars are larger when the
respondents are unaware of the sector’s climate impact.
Action respondents would take to reduce their
emissions from eating meat, eating dairy, and travel. Results are
separated between respondents aware or unaware of the climate
impact of each sector. Chatham House.
54 per cent of people who didn’t know that meat
and dairy have important associated emissions levels are unwilling
to change how much meat they eat, while 62 per cent wouldn’t change
how much dairy they consume.
In contrast, of those who did think meat and dairy
production had large associated emissions, 38 per cent and 50 per
cent respectively are unwilling to change how much they
Generally, the results for other sectors were
similar: those less aware of a sector’s emissions are less keen to
change their behaviour, the polling suggests. But awareness levels
are much lower for the livestock sector, the study says, making
behaviour change harder to inspire.
Consumption on the rise
Meat and dairy consumption are projected to rise
substantially over the next century. By the middle of the 21st
century global meat consumption is expected to be three-quarters
higher than it was just 10 years ago, and dairy consumption is
expected to rise by two-thirds over the same period.
23 per cent of respondents to the survey say
they would like to be eating more meat, while 34 per cent would
like to consume more dairy.
But despite the expected growth in emissions,
the sector “attracts remarkably little policy attention at either
the international or national level”, the study finds. For example,
France and Bulgaria are the only developed countries to have
established specific targets to cut emissions from livestock
“In the absence of policy,” says co-author Rob
Bailey, “livestock will consume a larger and larger share of a
And this has implications for a global target to
limit climate change, argues Bailey:
“You can make a
compelling case that without dietary change at the global level,
the two-degrees goal is pretty much off the table.”
Bailey, R., Froggatt, A. and Wellesley, L. (2014) Livestock
– Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat
and Dairy Consumption, Chatham House.