Livestock production, climate change and public perception
Poultry production produces fewer greenhouse gases than other livestock sectors, but its contribution to climate change is growing
There is an awareness gap in the public’s recognition of the livestock sector’s role in contributing to climate change and, globally, people are twice as likely to identify transport as a major contributor to climate change.
The finding comes from a survey conducted by UK’s Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, into global public opinion on meat and dairy consumption. It goes on to argue that the public must be made aware of livestock’s production’s contribution to climate change and that without a change in public attitudes to meat consumption, achieving climate change targets will be impossible.
There is a major gap in the international community’s plans to tackle change, the report’s authors say, and that that gap is livestock production. The livestock sector is responsible for nearly 15 percent of global emissions – similar to that produced by powering all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships in the world, yet it is conspicuous by its absence from international or national strategies to reduce emissions.
Industry initiatives enough?
The report goes on to argue that, even with ambitious supply-side action to reduce the emissions intensity of livestock production, rising global demand for meat and dairy produce means that emissions will continue to rise.
Shifting global demand for meat and dairy produce is central to achieving climate goals, the authors say. However, recent analyses have shown that it is unlikely global temperature rises can be kept below two degrees Celsius without a shift in global meat and dairy consumption. Reducing demand for animal products could also significantly reduce mitigation costs in non-agricultural sectors by increasing their available carbon budget.
Yet, there is a strikingly little effort to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products. While beef and dairy are responsible for the most emissions, accounting for 65 percent of the total greenhouse gases emitted by livestock, the scale and growth rate of pork and poultry production mean that their emissions are not exempt from concern.
A number of factors, not least fear of backlash, have made governments and environmental groups reluctant to pursue policies or campaigns to shift consumer behavior, and a lack of attention afforded to the issue among policy-makers and opinion-formers contributes to the lack of research on how best to reduce meat and dairy consumption.
Consumer attitudes key
The online, multilingual survey explored public attitudes on the relationship between meat/dairy consumption and climate change.
It found that consumers with a higher level of awareness were more likely to indicate willingness to reduce their meat and dairy consumption for climate objectives. Closing the awareness gap is therefore, likely to be an important precondition for behavioral change.
Those actors most trusted to inform consumers on the links between livestock and climate change are generally “experts” and environmental groups, although important differences exist between countries, the study found.
Climate change is generally secondary to immediate considerations of taste, price, and health and food safety in shaping consumers’ food choices. This has important implications for the design of strategies to moderate meat and dairy consumption. Those strategies that emphasize co-benefits, for example health and expenditure, and do not require consumers to compromise on enjoyment are likely to be more successful.
Some of the greatest potential for behavior change appears to lie in emerging economies, the study revealed. Respondents to the online survey in Brazil, China and India demonstrated high levels of acceptance of human-induced climate change, greater consideration of climate change when choosing meat and dairy, and a greater willingness to modify their consumption behavior than the average of the countries assessed. This is encouraging, the authors note, as these countries are among the most important for future demand for meat and dairy products.