In June, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published the 2023 Progress in Reducing Carbon Emissions Report to Parliament. The report provides an overview of the UK Government’s progress in reducing emissions, and assesses the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP) released by the Government earlier this year. Despite new detail and transparency on reaching net zero provided by the CBDP, the CCC states that their confidence in the UK meeting its medium-term targets has decreased in the past year, with the pace of delivery being inadequate to address the problem at hand. The CCC highlights that more demand side policies are needed to facilitate a shift to more healthy and sustainable diets.
Overall the report highlights that on nearly every front, the UK is falling short on emissions targets, has lost its position as a leading global environmental influence, and has failed to act with the urgency required.
Little action on food and farming
The report provides a comprehensive overall of emissions from all major sectors across the UK. However the main headlines from food and farming are as follows:
- Despite numerous policy announcements, action to reduce emissions from land-use and agriculture was found to be behind targets.
- Emissions from Agriculture, Forest & Land Use were up from 2020 levels, now representing 11% of UK emissions, largely due to an increase in agricultural emissions.
- Methane from enteric fermentation (a digestion process that takes place in animals) and livestock waste management accounts for nearly 50% of UK methane emissions and has not fallen in the last decade.
- Despite an overall decrease in sheep and cattle since 1990, numbers have remained unchanged since 2021.
- If the change in UK diets to eat less meat is not accompanied by a reduction in UK livestock numbers, a rise in exports will fail to reduce domestic methane emissions or release land required for carbon sequestration.
In all four UK nations the CCC highlights that food demand and consumption in relation to climate change are poorly addressed. Currently, the UK Government has set out no plans to support the public to shift to a lower-carbon diet.
Responses from across the Eating Better Alliance
Our Better by Half roadmap calls for sustainable, healthy food-based dietary guidance must be developed, endorsed and supported through all government departments. These new guidelines must underpin policy development in each department, with all policies assessed for their impact on access to a healthy diet.
“The findings in the new CCC report highlight the need to transition to less and better meat and dairy and more UK-grown pulses to lower carbon emissions for the health of people and the planet. This government constantly fails to listen to its own advisors who make a strong case and put forward commensurate measures to support dietary change that's good for reducing emissions and good for our health.” - Simon Billing, Executive Director at Eating Better
"It is vital we slash methane this decade to avoid climate tipping points and yet the government remains wedded to the interests of big meat and dairy, ignoring its obligations under the Global Methane Pledge." - Maddy Haughton-Boakes, Senior Campaigner at Changing Markets Foundation
"The government's lack of policy progress towards reducing our fossil fuel emissions is setting us up for more crop failures, more uncertainty in farming businesses, and a more food insecure future.” - Yali Banton-Heath, Campaigns Communications Coordinator at The Landworker’s Alliance
“Even low-risk, low-regret opportunities to improve public health and reduce meat and dairy emissions are being left to rot, while the government deflects responsibility onto speculative and unproven future fixes.” - Liam Lysaght, Campaigner at Feedback
“The government is failing to protect people and wildlife from the climate emergency because they don’t have clear policy or a sense of urgency on food and farming. We know what will work. We need to make healthy and sustainable food available and affordable to everyone, starting with all public sector meals. We must also clamp down on the biggest polluters – intensive livestock mega-farms - and support a transition to agroecology.” - Ruth Westcott, Climate and Nature Emergency Co-ordinator at Sustain
“The government is failing in its net zero targets and must act faster. We agree that the public should be empowered to make green choices and the government needs to have a public conversation on benefits of sustainable diets in reducing emissions.” - Roshni Shah, Plant Futures Programme Manager at Made in Hackney
“...while the willingness of the public to make dietary changes is apparent, so far, the UK government has not introduced any plans to help the public to switch to a low-carbon diet…We commend concrete measures to empower and support households and communities to shift to a low-carbon diet.” - Tatevik Hovhannisyan, Advocacy & Policy Officer at Vegetarian for Life
"A comprehensive UK land use strategy is urgently needed...With this, we can ensure UK land can thrive with food security and recreation spaces whilst protecting the climate and the welfare of animals living within it.” - Emily Wilson, Head of Campaigns at FOUR PAWS UK
“We cannot address the challenges facing our food system without a vision of the just and sustainable future we wish to build, and this vision must be embedded in an understanding of the social values and cultural assumptions that shape the debate.” - Jackie Turner, Communications and Engagement Officer at TABLE Debates
“Over the past decade, the UK’s consumption of meat has declined by almost one fifth but reaching targets that align with sustainability will require a considerable acceleration of this trend. Now imagine what could happen if we had a government that actively encouraged people to eat less meat as part of a healthier and more sustainable national diet.” - Richard McIlwain, Chief Executive at The Vegetarian Society
“Since setting its ambitious net-zero target, we have all seen the Government do precious little about it...Now the Climate Change Committee has once again reiterated the urgent need for a dietary shift away from meat and dairy. We simply cannot afford further delay...” - Jimmy Pierson, Director at ProVeg UK