It’s time to address diet choices and climate change

This letter was sent to the Straits Times Forum, but was not published.

It is great to see Singapore focusing on Climate Action in 2018.  However, there is a surprising lack of attention drawn to the significant role diet plays in people’s carbon footprints.  In addition to carbon dioxide, animal agriculture contributes other greenhouse gases of higher potency like methane and nitrous oxides.

Just how big of a role do animal products play in climate change?  A UN analysis found that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to the meat, dairy and egg industries, more than all the emissions from transportation.  The top 5 animal meat corporations release the same amount of greenhouse gases as the world’s largest fossil fuel company.

While many countries are on board with becoming fossil-fuel free, meat consumption and its resulting emissions are increasing in many parts of the world.  A UN report concluded in a report, “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change.”

In the latest update from the USDA, in 2016 Brazil became the number one supplier of beef and chicken to Singapore.  In Brazil, the number one cause of Amazon rainforest deforestation is cattle ranching, and the deforestation contributes directly to climate change.

In helping people to do their part in climate action, they need to be aware of what personal actions they can take that are most effective.  Studies have found that plant-based diets are among the most effective ways to significantly cut personal and global carbon emissions.  Diet started to be addressed at the Bonn Climate Conference in 2017.  China has also started setting goals for meat reduction to combat climate change, and some European governments no longer serve animal meat at their functions.

The way 7.5+ billion people try to eat daily is connected to every sustainability challenge our civilisation faces, including climate change. If we do not start making diet change an integral part of addressing climate change, we likely will not meet global climate goals.  However, if people are aware, studies show they are willing to make better choices.  Let’s hope that in the year of Climate Action, we all work together to help increase awareness and availability of plant-based options in Singapore, so people can take effective action on climate change.  Some initiatives in Singapore are already doing this, including EarthFest in Jan 2018 that featured a wide range of plant-based foods.

Michael Broadhead

Volunteer Director, EarthFest Singapore