Earlier this summer, the powers that be in the European Union furthered their longstanding aspirations and revealed emission reduction targets that are supposedly binding for each and every member state of the EU. Among those targets is a pledge to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions by nearly 50 percent by the year 2050.
The fulfillment of the EU's pledge obviously requires some pretty massive changes, but the specifics have been hazy until now. But a recently released study by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden has some specific recommendations: It says the EU will have to slash its consumption of cattle by no less than 50 percent in order to meet the 2050 emissions goals.
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The study, which was led by Dr. David Bryngelsson, found that not only would the reduction in cattle consumption have a much more significant environmental impact than diminishing food waste, it's a far more realistic way of ensuring that the EU is able to actually meet its goal.
The study said that radically reducing beef and mutton consumption is "unavoidable" if Europeans are serious about emission reduction. The researchers explored six possible scenarios and found that deep cuts of 50 percent or more in meat consumption—a drastic dietary change—is the only way to really reduce methane and nitrous oxide in the environment.
The EU has been focusing on cutting food waste, including its so-called Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste, but Bryngelsson and his team say that even if "optimistic" goals to cut food waste in half are met, that would only lower emissions by 1 to 3 percent. In short, changes in meat consumption would have a much more profound effect.
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It's not entirely clear if the researchers accounted for the possibility of the UK reneging on the deal following the Brexit vote. The eventual triggering of Article 50—the official beginning of a British exit—could have massive implications for Britain's role in EU climate policies. A British government spokeswoman, however, told the WSJ that EU climate goals continue to apply.
If the researchers are right, climate change simply cannot and will not be significantly arrested unless the people of Europe—and the rest of the world—start eating a lot less meat.