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FOOD AND FARMING
14 September 2020 7:00

Interactive: What is the climate impact of eating meat and dairy?

Multiple Authors

09.14.20
Food and farmingInteractive: What is the climate impact of eating meat and dairy?

Food production accounts for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and takes up half of the planet’s habitable surface.

A taste for meat has had a particular impact on land. The mass of animals raised for slaughter on Earth now outweighs wildlife by a factor of 15-to-1. For example, for every person on the planet, there are approximately three chickens.

Meat and dairy specifically accounts for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

If the world is to meet its target of limiting global warming to “well below” 2C, some degree of diet shift will be necessary, scientists say. If it is to strive for the most optimistic target of keeping warming to 1.5C, changes to diet may be even more crucial.

In this interactive Q&A, Carbon Brief explores how greenhouse gas emissions from meat, dairy and other diets compare, as well as whether changes to the production and transportation of meat could help to stem its climate impact.

How do emissions from meat, dairy and other foods compare?

There are several ways to assess the relative climate impact of different food groups. The chart below compares the average greenhouse gas emissions produced per kilogram of different food products.

The analysis, which is based on a study published in Science in 2018, considers all the factors that go into producing food, including the land required for production, the farming process and the transportation and selling stages. (The emissions from each of these stages are discussed in more detail below.)

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