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Paris climate change summit and the taboo of meat-eating

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Paris climate change summit and the taboo of meat-eating



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Global climate talks in Paris (COP21) entered their ninth day on Wednesday.

Delegates are working to reach a climate change deal to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.

Several events are focusing on the climate impacts of meat and dairy consumption.

Singer Paul McCartney is highlighting the importance of a meat-reduced diet.

“This is one of the most delicate issues with climate protection, because we all have our habits and diet is something quite holy for some people, not to be meddled with,” said Jo Leinen, an omnivorous German member of the European Parliament.

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are focusing mainly on reducing carbon dioxide output from industry in order to limit global warming, rather than on diet.

But the livestock sector is responsible for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, through cows producing methane and production processes – comparable to all the direct emissions from cars, planes, ships and other transport.

On the sidelines of the summit, one American firm this week proposed one answer in the form of its “Impossible Burger”. Made entirely from plants, it is intended to look and taste identical to beef, and produces a similar smell when grilled.

The company is partly funded by Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates and Google Ventures. Google co-founder Sergey Brin previously helped fund a beefburger created in a test-tube at Maastricht University in the Netherlands in 2013.

One day without meat

Elsewhere, a delegation from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation was attempting to promote January 11, 2016, as a Day of Meatlessness.

“It is just one day, but it will help people think about the environmental, ethical, and health issues around meat, and maybe it will grow,” said volunteer Lori Chen. “We know you have to move slowly, and be less forceful on issues of diet.”

Often, it is a question of social norms. “In France, they take offence if you don’t eat meat, like you are rejecting their culture,” said Chen. “In China, you are emasculated if you only eat plants,” added Hanford Lin, who works for the foundation’s fundraising arm.

One person at the conference who is decidedly not emasculated – actor, bodybuilder and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – told reporters on Monday there was no reason why vegetarians could not achieve a muscular physique.

“I have seen many bodybuilders and lifters who are vegetarians and get strong and healthy,” he said. “I think it is a good idea, but … you have to start slowly, you can’t just convince people to stop eating meat altogether.”

For now, though, meat consumption is rising in the United States, China, and elsewhere despite health warnings, most recently a World Health Organization report that found eating processed or red meat increased the risk of developing cancer.

The British think tank Chatham House says that merely applying existing recommendations from health bodies to limit meat consumption would generate a quarter of the remaining emissions reductions needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, a key target of the Paris talks.

Delegates hope to secure a final climate deal by the Friday deadline of 6 p.m. CET on Friday (December 11).


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