08 Oct 2018

Climate change is the change in the usual weather patterns of that place that lasts for an extended time period. Since 1880, the global temperature has risen over 1°C. It is time to explore plant-based meals, a low-cost solution to climate change.

This seems negligible to untrained eyes. But, 1°C has caused climate change resulting in extreme weather events all over the world like increased heatwaves, wildfires, extreme rainfalls and other effects such as arctic meltdown, sinking lands, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, illnesses, global food and water shortages.

As of today, 181 parties have bindingly ratified the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise below 2°C of pre-industrial levels.

Ideally, the target is set at 1.5°C to significantly reduce further climate impact by 2050. This is estimated to save the world economy of USD26 trillion climate-induced losses, as noted by The Straits Times.

Yet, since then, there are numerous analyses stating that progress is not on track to meet the target. Current climate pledges and actions are inadequate in reversing severe global warming. In the current track, the global temperature is headed to rise at 3°C.

Fighting against climate change is a seemingly daunting task. The climate scene has been engulfed with the lack of concrete political willpower and lagging actions for a few decades.

The science behind widely recommended solutions makes attaining the ideal 1.5°C target not only complicated, but impractical for many countries because advanced technologies and high costs are involved.

The current ambitions of emission reduction are heavily concentrated on switching to the use of non-fossil fuel energies. That includes phasing out carbon-intensive coal and oil and replacing them with renewable technology such as solar and wind power, including promoting the use of electric vehicles.

However, in developing countries such as in Malaysia -- about half of the population cannot afford a car, let alone buy an electric vehicle which costs at least four times more than petrol-fueled alternatives.

While equator countries would benefit from solar power, the high start-up costs and knowledge gaps on renewables remain a barrier for these strategies to be effectively adopted to curb emissions and hit the 1.5°C target.

Despite the low price of global crude oil, oil and gas remains recognised as a priority sector by many oil-rich countries due to its significant contribution to the economy.

It takes time for developing countries to evolve to more steady economies with better technology capacity, but the current climate urgency does not allow for the luxury of time.

A low-cost solution

Despite socio-economic differences, there is a better way to solve climate change which government of all countries can do, and at little cost – to encourage and provide plant-based meals to the people.

In 2006, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation published that the livestock sector contributes to global warming more than the transportation sector worldwide combined.

While the livestock industry contributes about only 9% of total carbon dioxide emissions, it is responsible for 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions globally.

This is a crucial piece of information because while carbon has been getting the spotlight in climate change, methane and nitrous oxide are 25 and 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide in global warming potentials respectively. This was studied over a 100-year average.

For methane, that number increases to 72 and 100 times respectively when averaged over a 20-year and a five-year period respectively.

A simple calculation on the heat potentials of these gases, as contrary to popular beliefs, will suggest that raising livestock is the biggest driver of global warming.

A revised report by two World Bank’s environmentalists, Goodland and Anhang noted that livestock and their by-products actually account for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions.

While one can argue that efficient practices are key to reducing emissions even for the hottest gases, the most recent Special Report on 1.5 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that methane and nitrous oxide emissions are very hard to eliminate with current technologies.

The upside is, methane is a short-lived climate pollutant which has a lesser lifetime in the atmosphere. This means that reducing methane would lead to a faster cooling effect in reversing global warming, as compared to carbon dioxide which has a longer dissipation rate.

Switch to a livestock-free diet

Therefore, the solution to climate change, which can be adopted by all countries in a simple yet effective manner, is a global switch to a practice of a livestock-free diet, more specifically, an animal-free diet.

This would also help us reduce the devastating impact of overfishing that exacerbates climate change such as causing ocean dead zones and marine habitat loss.

While phasing out livestock and substituting that with a climate-friendly alternative is necessary, it is important to also encourage and subsidise plant-based organic farming for high quality food security.

Global governments should also use public policy to do these in the meantime -- To serve plant-based meal options abundantly in all eateries in the country. Plant-based options should account for at least 50% of restaurant menu, with proper labels and intake values to educate the public, so that people can have plenty of nutritional combinations to choose from to compose a well-balanced animal-free diet.

In conclusion, since the greatest source of methane and nitrous oxide is from animal agriculture, livestock industries should be gradually eliminated for good if we want to see an immediate cooling of the planet to reach the 1.5-degree target for planetary survival.