The environmental group Feedback has written to the government to ask how they will reach legally binding emissions targets without reducing how much meat and dairy is eaten and produced in the UK.
Both Henry Dimbleby’s food strategy and the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent government body advising on climate change, recommended 20 and 30 per cent reductions respectively of animal products in diets to meet net zero emissions (where the amount of greenhouse gases we emit is equalled by the amount we remove) by 2050.
Meanwhile, Defra minister George Eustice said in a Lord’s Select Committee on climate change that the government has “no intention of telling people to eat less meat”. Instead, the government’s food strategy states that new technology, such as feed additives, will be developed to help reduce emissions.
“By failing to take any action whatsoever to support the reduction of meat and dairy, against the advice of Henry Dimbleby and the Committee on Climate Change, the government is committing to vast agricultural emissions and land use from livestock,” said executive director of Feedback, Carina Millstone.
Feedback said this could be illegal because the government has committed by law, under the Climate Change Act, to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and it is unclear how they will achieve them without reductions in meat and dairy.
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How much meat to eat and whether to reduce is a topic of debate elsewhere, as a new report by the Sustainable Food Trust recently set out its own plan for climate-friendly food systems and where it stresses that a differentiation in how the livestock is reared is vital.
“The government claims it has produced a strategy to tackle the contribution food makes to the climate emergency but has omitted from it any policies on meat or dairy reduction, despite clear recommendations,” said Feedback’s legal representative, Rowan Smith.
“On the face of it, that error is potentially unlawful,” Smith added.
This comes as the government’s climate strategy has also been ruled unlawful in a landmark case in the high court and will be forced to revise its strategy as a result. It comes in a week of record high temperatures and severe heat across the UK with mass disruption across the railway as infrastructure failed to cope.
Environmental charities, Friends of the Earth, Client Earth and legal campaign group, Good Law Project, won a successful legal challenge against the government proving that its current policies to limit carbon emissions are inadequate to meet the reductions required by the Climate Change Act.
The policies set out in the climate strategy were calculated to be five per cent short of the targets. However, according to analysis by the CCC, the government have credible plans for only 39 per cent of the legal reductions.
“This decision is a breakthrough moment in the fight against climate delay and inaction. It forces the government to put in place climate plans that will actually address the crisis,” said senior lawyer at Client Earth, Sam Hunter Jones.
According to Millstone, this bodes well for Feedback’s legal challenge to the government on meat and dairy consumption, to which the government will respond by the 5 August.
“It relies on the same legal argument,” said Millstone. “The government has a responsibility under the Climate Change Act to put in the policies to meet their carbon budget.”
“The argument we’re making is that they’ve put in place no policies to reduce meat and dairy consumption, as per the budget.”
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