As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.
The report states that “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products”.
Both energy and agriculture need to be “decoupled” from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found. The panel, which drew on numerous studies including the Millennium ecosystem assessment, cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.
The report aimed to offer a detailed problem description and analysis of the causation of environmental pressures, and not surprisingly, they identified fossil fuels use and agricultural production as major problem areas.
Animal agriculture is responsible for using 70% of the world’s freshwater resources and approximately one-third of that is needed just to grow farmed animal feed crops. In comparison, only 10% is used for municipal consumption. According to the FAO, agriculture was responsible for 93% of water depletion worldwide 15 years ago.
Around 80% of tropical deforestation stems from agriculture and animal agriculture is the leading driver for approximately one-third of the land lost on Earth due to desertification. Farmed animals produce approximately 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, and animal agriculture is the leading cause of land pollution and ocean dead zones.
The recommendation of a global veganism shift follows advice last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the Labour government on the economics of climate change. Last year the FAO said that food production would have to increase globally by 70% by 2050 to feed the world’s surging population. The panel says that efficiency gains in agriculture will be overwhelmed by the expected population growth and will not cope.
Although the report makes no reference to animal rights or the concept of speciesism within this article, it remains a positive sign that veganism is gaining mainstream momentum and is hopefully going to receive attention from more people across the planet. We can live healthier, more ethical lives without meat and dairy. Let’s not waste anymore time or anymore lives and act now.