Climate Change Public Service Announcements
Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri-Global Warning: The Impact of Meat Production and Consumption on Climate Change    Part 1
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Welcome, caring viewers, to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. To raise awareness of the profound and devastating environmental effects of livestock-raising, the UK-based non-profit group Compassion in World Farming hosted a lecture and panel discussion on the topic in London, England.

The event, held in September 2008, brought together over 400 participants from government, the diplomatic sector, think tanks and research organizations.

Panel participants featured Dr. Henning Steinfeld, Chief Livestock Specialist of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and co-author of the well-known 2006 United Nations report “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.”  

The panel also included Dr. Robert Watson, chief scientist of Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Felicity Lawrence, British author of best-selling books on the food industry, Professor John Powles, senior lecturer in public health medicine at Cambridge University, England and Compassion in World Farming’s farm-animal welfare expert Joyce D’Silva.  

The lecture, entitled “Global Warning: the Impact of Meat Production and Consumption on Climate Change” was given by the esteemed Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a vegetarian.

Media reports on the role of meat consumption in driving climate change have increased significantly since Dr. Pachauri’s call in 2008 for the world to eat less meat to counter global warming.

In honor of Earth Day we now feature excerpts from Dr. Pachauri’s compelling talk.

Dr. Pachauri :
What I’m going to do to start with is give you a few major findings from the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Then I’ll deal with the subject of consumption of meat and its role in contributing to emissions of greenhouse gases, and then talk about a few means by which we should bring about a reduction.

This is just a view of changes that have taken place and these are observed changes in global average temperature, global average sea level and Northern Hemisphere snow cover. You’d notice over here that this record of temperature changes, starting with the beginning of industrialization, has had obvious ups and downs.

That’s essentially because changes have taken place both as a result of natural factors as well as human-induced factors. But what is particularly significant is that in recent decades you see that the increase in temperature has been much steeper than in previous decades.

Therefore, and then I’ll say a little more about this later, it’s largely the result of human contributions to the concentration of greenhouse gases that you find this rapid increase in temperature that’s taken place in recent decades. And if one looks at the total increase, the average increase during the 20th century, it amounted to about 0.74 degrees Celsius.

Direct observations of recent climate change. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report p.3.
Figure SPM.3. Observed changes in (a) global average surface temperature, (b) global average sea level from tide gauge (blue) and satellite data (red) and (c) Northern Hemisphere snow cover for March-April.

Corresponding to that, the middle diagram gives you global average sea level changes. This, if I might mention, during the 20th century amounted to about 17 centimeters. Now you could say 17 centimeters is not a lot, but if you are living in the Maldives Islands or on the low-lying country of Bangladesh, then 17 centimeters, which is pretty close to a foot, is really a lot.

You don’t even have to wait till inundation of that entire land area takes place as a result of sea level rise, but purely because of coastal flooding, because of storm surges and cyclones, there would be much greater devastation that would take place on account of a higher sea.

Northern Hemisphere snow cover has been going down. You see this particularly in the case of the Arctic region, which is warming at about twice the rate of the rest of the globe.

(IPCC Fourth Assessment Report p.7) Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century. The best estimate for the low scenario is 1.8°C, and the best estimate for the high scenario is 4.0°C. WG1 {10.3} (SPM p.15)

Multi-model averages and assessed ranges for surface warming. Solid lines are multi-model global averages of surface warming (relative to 1980–1999) for the scenarios A2, A1B and B1, shown as continuations of the 20th century simulations. Shading denotes the ±1 standard deviation range of individual model annual averages. The orange line is for the experiment where concentrations were held constant at year 2000 values. The grey bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line within each bar) and the likely range assessed for the six SRES marker scenarios. The assessment of the best estimate and likely ranges in the grey bars includes the AOGCMs in the left part of the figure, as well as results from a hierarchy of independent models and observational constraints.

Now in the Fourth Assessment Report we’ve come up with projections of temperature increases by the end of this century, and naturally, based on scenarios of economic growth, technology changes and other factors, there’s a whole range of outcomes that one can project. Corresponding to that we get a range of these temperature increases by the end of the century, right from 1.1 degrees Celsius to 6.4 degrees Celsius.

But we’ve come up with two so-called best estimates, one at the lower end, which we estimated at 1.8 degrees Celsius, and at the upper end about four degrees Celsius. I might say that even the 1.8 degrees Celsius increase does provide some cause for alarm, because that combined with the 0.74 degree increase that took place in the 20th century would add up to over 2.5 degrees Celsius.

In looking at the impacts of climate change, we’ve now come to the conclusion that a 2.5 degree increase in temperature will cause impacts that clearly would be quite unacceptable on any basis whatsoever, particularly on the basis of equity, because some of the worst affected regions in the world, are those that are hardly responsible for having caused the problem.

These are regions where you have widespread poverty. There’s absolutely no infrastructure or capacity by which they might be able to withstand the impacts of climate change. So the point I’m trying to make is that we really have to do something about the current trends, and we have to bring about some major changes by which we can take care of the future of this planet.

                                                   IPCC Fourth Assessment Report p.5.

<!--[if !ppt]--> <!--[endif]-->Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years.Global GHG emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004

Dr. Pachauri :
This gives you a picture of the way emissions have grown since the 1970s. Of course, it’s obvious that the largest source of increase has been from CO2 emissions, based on the use of fossil fuels. There is, of course, also an increase in other sources of carbon dioxide like deforestation, which is quite considerable, decay of organic matter and peat and so on. Then you have other gases like methane and N2O from agriculture and others.

Now if one wants, to get into further detail on how much of these emissions are accounted for from production of meat, then we would really have to look at some numbers that I’d like to place before you.

Unfortunately, the growth in global daily availability of calories per capita has not resolved the food insecurity and malnutrition in poor countries, and in fact has increased pressure on the environment.

Now in recent months, as you’re aware, there’s been a substantial increase in food prices. And for some countries and societies where almost 80 to 90 percent of the household income goes for buying food, this really spells disaster. And as a result, we’ve had demonstrations, we’ve had protests in several parts of the world. But what is particularly sad is the fact that decades of effort to wipe out poverty have really been washed out by what has happened in recent months.

So it’s important for us to understand the inequitable and unequal nature of distribution of food. Even though in the aggregate the world is now consuming a huge quantity of calories, both at per capita as well as aggregate terms, its distribution leaves much to be desired. During the last four decades agricultural land gained almost 500-million hectares from forests and other land uses.

Recently I was in Brazil, about two months ago, and I was invited to speak at the senate over there, and Madam Marina Silva, who used to be the Minister of the Environment, and other senators told me that they’re really concerned about the rate at which deforestation of the Amazon region took place last year.

It seems to be increasing year after year. So I mean, what we have to worry about is clearing our forest land for agriculture and related purposes. An additional 500-million hectares is projected to be converted into agriculture in the period up to 2020, mostly in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

If we look at accounting of emissions from agriculture, basically from livestock production, we have 80% of the emissions, total emissions from agriculture, being accounted for by livestock production. It amounts to 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is shown over here.

And I’m using data that’s been provided by the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization). Since people found out about this talk that I was going to give here today, I’ve received a number of emails from people that I respect, saying that the 18% figure is an underestimate, it’s a low estimate and in actual fact it’s much higher.

<!--[if !ppt]--> <!--[endif]-->McMichael A.J., Powles J., Butler C. and Uauy R., 2007. Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. The Lancet 370: 9594, pp 1253 - 1263

If we look at the proportion of greenhouse-gas emissions from different parts of livestock production, a good part comes from deforestation and desertification, about 35.4%, then the manure, both direct and indirect, because do remember that a large part of food grain production goes into feeding animals that are essentially used for meat.

And there’s enteric fermentation which is also quite large, 25%, and other sources, all of which is shown over here in broad terms.

Now producing 1kilogram of beef, I believe, leads to emissions of greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4 kilogram of CO2, which releases fertilizing compounds equivalent of 340 grams of sulfur dioxide, 59 grams of phosphate, which consumes 169 megajoules of energy.

And one kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European driver, per car, for every 250 kilometers and it burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for 20 days.

Now again, let’s look at the inequity of the situation, and I’ll say a little more about this later. There are 1.6-billion people in this world who don’t have access to electricity, and have never possessed a single light bulb in their homes. That to me is a huge tragedy, placed as we are in the 21st century.  

So I’m not saying that a reduction in emissions over here will translate into lighting of the homes of people who don’t have electricity today, but it just brings out the stark contrast between the situation in prosperous societies and those that are really deprived.

In addition to requesting people reduce or eliminate meat consumption, Dr. Pachauri is asking that the people of the developed world to reach out to assist those 1.6 billion people on the planet that have no access to electricity. The Indian non-profit The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI),  for which he serves as Director-General, is helping these disadvantaged persons build better lives by making solar lanterns and flashlights available through TERI’s Light a Billion Lives Campaign. 

US Dept Agriculture (USDA) Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of meat is 5.5 to 6 ounces (170 g) pp per day. The World Cancer Research Fund report (2007) recommends only 11 ounces (300gm) red meat a WEEK for a public health goal and under 18 oz (500 gm) per week for personal goals.

Dr. Pachauri:  
Over two thirds of the energy goes toward producing and transporting the animals’ feed. Now this is a significant figure. And this clearly points to the concept of factory farming of meat products. These are of course additional sources of greenhouse gases from meat consumption.

Meat typically requires cooking at high temperatures for long periods. You can eat vegetables without cooking and sometimes it’s probably healthier to do that because you retain all the nutrition that’s there in vegetable products. And a large proportion of meat also becomes waste products: bones, fat, past the date spoiled products and so on, which are likely to end up on landfills and incinerated.

So that’s an additional source of emissions that we need to take into account. If we look at two types of equivalent meals, let us say you compare a 6 ounce beefsteak [170 grams] with the meal that’s shown at the top, one cup of broccoli. One cup eggplant, 4 ounces of cauliflower, [113 grams] 8 ounces of rice. [226 grams]  Now if you look at what each of these two diets implies, one is associated with 0.4 pounds of CO2 [181 grams] equivalent emissions and the 6 ounce beefsteak [170 grams] amounts to 10 pounds [4535 grams] of CO2 equivalent, which is almost 25 times as much.

The livestock sector is by far the single largest anthropogenic user of land. Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the world’s surface land area. And 70% of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by cattle pastures, and crops for animal feed cover a large part of the remainder.

I was following the Brazilian economy almost 15 to 20 years ago and you would recall that there was a period in the 1980s when Brazil had a huge foreign debt, something like US$120 billion dollars at that point of time. And one of the means by which they decided to liquidate that and neutralize it was by converting a large area of forest land into pasture land.

That’s when the whole problem started, but it is continued. Brazil is not alone; there are several other countries in the world that have done the same. Twenty percent of pasture land is degraded because of overgrazing, compaction, and erosion. So you know much of it then becomes unfit for any kind of cultivation. Other environmental impacts of livestock: amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of maize is 900 liters, rice, 3000 liters, chicken, 3900 (liters), pork, 4900(liters), and beef a whopping 15,500 liters.

So it’s also intensive in the use of water if you take the entire cycle. Livestock is responsible for 64% of ammonia emissions which contribute to acid rain. Livestock is among the largest sectoral source of land and water pollution with nitrates and phosphorous from sluddy and silage which runs off and from the use of nitrogen fertilizers.

So if one takes the sum total of all these impacts, then clearly, we have not really accounted for all the environmental impacts of meat and its production and consumption. Impacts of livestock on food availability. Well, one third of the world’s cereal harvest and over 90% of soya is used for animal feed, despite inherent inefficiencies.

It takes close to 10 kilograms of animal feed to produce 1 kilogram of beef and 4 to 5.5 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of pork, and 2.1 to 3 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of poultry meat. Now all of this…

is really happening on a much larger scale than was the case, say even two or three decades ago. And even in my country, in India, the poultry industry is really booming. Much of it is based on imported grains that are used for feeding the poultry stock.

And I’ve been going to China for several years. My first visit there was 1981, when I think most of China used to consume pork and of course seafood. But today China has had a major increase in consumption of meat. So typically what’s happening is all around the world, where incomes increase, people are shifting from vegetable to animal proteins and meat consumption.

Now a farmer can feed up to 30 persons throughout the year on one hectare with vegetables, fruits, cereals and vegetable fats. If the same area is used for the production of eggs, milk or meat, the number of persons fed varies from 5 to 10. So there is significant of difference there.  

Dr. Pachauri :
But this is the way meat production has been increasing over a period of time. In 2006, farmers produced 276 million tons of meat, 5 times as much as in the 1950’s. So that’s a very sharp increase.

If we look at those countries where major increases have taken place, they are shown here, and of course these are not the only ones, there are others also, you see some significant changes and increases in consumption over here, which all add up to contribute to the increase that’s taking place. this data’s taken from the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization).

In 2006 farmers produced an estimated 276 million tons of chicken, pork, beef, and other meat—four times as much as in 1961. On average, each person eats twice as much meat as back then, about 43 kilograms. Worldwatch Institute, State of the world 2008.
Between 1950 and 2000, the world's population doubled from 2.7 to 6.7 billion people while meat production increased fivefold from 45 to 233 billion kg per year. [1] Lancet, Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health, 2007:,25197,22410650-12377,00.html

If we look at expected trends in the livestock industry, well estimated doubling of global production of meat, up to 2050, it could go from 229 million tons in 2001 to 465 million tons. This is, of course, is based on data compiled by Compassion in World Farming, so I’ll run through these rather quickly because I’m sure there will be a discussion on these.  

So I’ll just skip this numbers. And this again is from the same organization, Compassion for World Farming. This, on the left hand side, lists some of the things that are being done to increase meat output. On the right hand side are listed some of the implications in terms of what it does, both to the animals themselves, but also to also ur, what would happen to society at large. Now what I’d like to say is there is a need for change in consumption patterns.

The reason why I’m talking about perhaps reducing meat consumption is because this is something which every individual can do. Often when one talks about climate change, in every audience, there will be somebody who asks, “Ok, I accept all this, but what can I do in my personal life?”

You can tell them about changing light bulbs, going for compact fluorescent lamps, switching off lights when you move from one room to the other, walk whenever you can rather than jump into a car, keep the thermostat at a level which requires you to wear a cardigan rather than sit with a T-Shirt at the peak of winter, in your den in the home, and so on. But I believe that what we can do without too much effort is to reduce meat consumption.

I think that’s a lifestyle change which each of us has within our powers to bring about.  Reduction in the size of the livestock industry through reduced consumption is the most effective way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

So. UK and US households waste around 1/3 of the food they buy. A change in consumption patterns will be required to achieve a low carbon and sustainable society. Now the power of British consumers, what would it amount to? Well the average household would reduce CO2 emissions by more if they halved their meat consumption, than if they halved their car usage.

So this is an important fact. A family of four eating a quarter pounder beef burger each, is responsible for the CO2 emissions equivalent of driving from London to Cambridge. 16 kilograms of CO2 emissions.  

So these are just some facts that bring out the importance and the implications of bringing about a reduction in meat consumption. If there are carbon dioxide emissions taking place as a result of the entire meat cycle, then I think that cost to society should be internalized and there should be a tax or whatever.  

Now I mentioned earlier that we have 1.6 billion people in the world who don’t have access to electricity. Now we could either set up thermal power plants you know, and burn coal or whatever to provide this electricity.

Even if we were to do that, a lot of them just can’t afford getting electricity connection to their homes. So my institute and I have launched a major program that we call Lighting a Billion Lives. Essentially that’s based on using photovoltaic technology.

We have devised solar lanterns and solar torches, which incidentally have been customized to meet the needs of the rural poor, in rural areas. I think overall what Gandhi said is relevant in every respect of actions that are required to combat climate change. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

It has been our pleasure to share with you excerpts of Dr. Rajendra Pachauri’s important presentation that documents how the production and consumption of animal products tremendously fuels climate change here on Planet Earth: Our Loving Home.  

Dr Pachauri lecture Audio and PowerPoint download
Dr Pachauri lecture and Q&A and Dr Pachauri's slideshow

FAO Report Livestock’s Long Shadow download

Full PDF -408-page Report UN

This summary (1-page PDF)
News article with comments (2-page PDF)

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