We cannot tackle climate change without moving away from large-scale industrial animal agriculture
For the next two weeks global leaders will be meeting at the COP26 conference in Glasgow. It is a time for governments to come together and set ambitious plans to tackle climate change and its causes.
Today the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, for which I am a proud patron, is publishing a landmark report spotlighting the impact of intensive farming on greenhouse gases in the UK.
The scientific evidence is clear that large-scale intensive farming is a key source of greenhouse gases. Its impact both in the UK and worldwide stretches far beyond high emissions, into biodiversity loss and climate change. Long supply chains, extensive land use change, and nitrate pollution are inherent to the industrial nature of intensive farming.
Such practices can simply not continue if we are to meet our legally binding environmental commitments. With the world watching COP26, now is the time to be principled and pragmatic in our approach to intensive animal agriculture and the obviously detrimental impact it has on our environment.
Livestock farming accounts for approximately 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is simply not sustainable
Addressing this will not be easy, but the evidence shows even small changes can have a big impact. A relatively small change in diets could return enough land to forest, to compensate for all the remaining emissions from livestock.
Reducing animal agriculture (both the number of animals and the land usage) by 19 per cent and converting this land to forest would allow the remaining methane emissions to be balanced by the carbon equivalent captured by the new forest. The benefits of taking such an approach are far reaching – including wildlife restoration, soil health, reduced antibiotic resistance, lower mortality rates from heart disease, and increased resilience to future pandemics.
Indeed, there is much to be optimistic about. We are the Party of conservation, and I am proud that it was this government who set our current world leading environmental targets. The UK has legislated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and has committed to reducing emissions by nearly 80 per cent on 1990 levels by 2035. As a population we are already seeing trends towards the kind of dietary shifts necessary to transition away from high meat consumption and towards more plant-based diets.
Of course, it is critical that any potential solutions put forward are accompanied by supportive measures and adequate incentives for food producers and landowners. As they have indicated in the Net-Zero Strategy, the government must ensure that the agriculture sector is supported in these changes while not shying away from the evidence that change must happen.
It is vital that we take note of the clear evidence of current impact from large-scale industrial animal agriculture. Livestock farming accounts for approximately 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation. That is simply not sustainable. It is now not a question of whether this impact exists, but the strength of the action we pursue in response.
Henry Smith is the Conservative MP for Crawley.
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