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Animal agriculture accounts for ‘at least’ 87 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report. 

Climate Healers’ latest paper Animal Agriculture is the Leading Cause of Climate Change also says focusing exclusively on the reduction of fossil fuel burning will ‘accelerate climate change, potentially to the point of no return’. 

It states that while fossil fuels are currently the leading source of human-made CO2 emissions – climate change is caused by ‘cumulative human-made greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions – not just current CO2 emissions alone’.

‘A global plant-based economy’

“While humans have been burning fossil fuels for a little over 200 years, we have been burning down forests for animal agriculture for well over 8,000 years…” the report states.

“For the GSA analysis, we use factual data from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other peer-reviewed scientific sources.

“We need to transition to a global plant-based economy first and that blindly eliminating fossil fuel usage first will accelerate the warming of the planet. 

Returning to the ‘Safe zone’

“[The report] shows that the annual methane emissions from animal agriculture alone cause more incremental global warming than the annual CO2 emissions from all fossil fuel sources combined.”

It added that transitioning to a ‘global plant-based economy’ has the potential to sequester more than 2,000 Gigatons (Gt) of CO2 and help return atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to the ‘safe zone’ of under 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 equivalent.

“This paper clearly illustrates why the scientific community, government institutions, corporations and news media, who vastly underestimate the role of animal agriculture and focus primarily on reducing fossil fuel use, need to urgently change their priorities in order to be effective,” the report adds.

Conflicting views on greenhouse gas emissions

Climate Healers is a non-profit organization working to promote a vegan lifestyle and reduce the impact of climate change. 

Whilst it has been commended for spotlighting the environmental impact of the meat industry, other studies reveal different results.

For example, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) state animal agriculture is only responsible for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Associate Professor in Human Ecology at Rutgers University, Pamela McElwee, refutes the Climate Healers report.

While Dr. Rao claims the opportunity cost for land used for animal agriculture accounts for a large amount of GHGs, McElwee disagrees – and references the 2019 IPCC Climate Change And Land Special Report.

McElwee told PBN: “There is no reason to think that lands currently used for pasture would be automatically rewilded. And, how that would be equivalent to 56 percent of total current GHG emissions appears to be pulled out of a hat. In short, this is wrong and not supported by the greater scientific community working on these issues.”

You can read the full report here

*Updated September 9, 2021 at 11:51am BST*

This article was updated to include additional information on the conflicting reports surrounding greenhouse gas emissions, and critiques of the report.

Liam Giliver

Liam is the former Deputy Editor of Plant Based News. He has written for The Independent, Huffington Post, Attitude Magazine, and more. He is also the author of 'We're Worried About Him'.