ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Meat and dairy consumption are rising rapidly across the developing world, and consumers are unaware that their appetite for animal products contributes as much to climate change as exhaust emissions from the transport sector, a new survey shows.
Climate-changing emissions from livestock are estimated to account for 14.5 percent of the global total, according to Chatham House, a UK-based think-tank.
A survey of 12,000 people in 12 countries released by Chatham House late on Tuesday showed that more than twice as many respondents saw transport exhaust emissions as a major contributor to climate change than saw emissions from meat and dairy output as important — 64 percent versus 29 percent.
Livestock consumption is set to rise significantly over the next 40 years, particularly in large emerging markets including China, India, Brazil and South Africa, which were included in the survey.
“By 2050, we are looking at a 60 to 70 percent increase in meat consumption,” Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Part of this increase is happening because consumers do not know the climate-changing impacts of meat and dairy consumption, researchers said.
More than 40 percent of Russians, and 25 percent of South Africans, thought meat and dairy production caused “little or no” climate change.
Once consumers were aware of the implications for global warming of eating more meat, about 20 percent became more likely to express willingness to change their diet, according to the survey.
Respondents in Brazil, India and China, where meat consumption is rising, showed a greater willingness to modify their consumption than the average of the countries assessed, once they were shown the climatic impact of their diet.
Climate change impacts, however, are generally secondary to more immediate considerations of taste, price, health and food safety in shaping food choices, the research said.
Across the 12 countries, women were more likely than men to say the impact of climate change was an important determinant of how much meat they eat, by 71 to 64 percent.
“It is unlikely dangerous climate change can be avoided unless (meat) consumption falls,” Rob Bailey, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Consumers need to change their behaviour and this survey shows a substantial lack of awareness of this.”