With a population of over 1 billion people and growing, the environmental strain that China puts on the world has been rightly questioned. But there has been an emerging picture developing over the last few years of a country trying to pull away from the dirty image with which it has been labeled. Last year, for example, China led the pack globally in the amount of investments put into renewables, while it is also thought that the country has reached peak coal years before its target.
Now, it seems, the nation is setting its sights on another major driver of climate change: agriculture. The Chinese government has released plans to get its citizens to cut their meat consumption by 50 percent, in a move that many environmentalists have hailed as an opportunity to bring down carbon emissions and curb the uncontrollable warming on the planet. It is thought that if this target is achieved, it could cut the equivalent carbon emissions from the meat production industry by 1 billion tonnes (1.1 billion tons) by 2030.
Arnie and James Cameron are fronting new adverts by WildAid aiming to encourage people to eat less meat. Vern Evans/WildAid
The livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses, accounting for 14.5 percent of the planet's emissions. This comes from the fact that the billions of cattle, chickens, pigs, and other animals release methane – a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – as well as the emissions associated with the clearing of land to raise the animals, and the production of crops to feed them. Overall, the livestock industry contributes more than all transport combined.
The new guidelines, part of health measures issued every 10 years in China to improve public health, urge people to consume between 40 and 75 grams (1.4 and 2.6 ounces) of meat per day. To help get the growing middle and upper classes on board, for whom meat is becoming more and more of a staple, the government’s initiative is even being championed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron, who are fronting a campaign by WildAid to try and encourage people in China and around the world to cut down.
The average Chinese person now consumes 63 kilograms (139 pounds) of meat per year, up from 13 kilograms (28 pounds) in 1982, and expected to increase to 93 kilograms (205 pounds) by 2030 if nothing is done. This is a dramatic ramp up in consumption and accounts for 28 percent of all meat eaten worldwide, but still far short of the nations who eat the most. In America and Australia, for example, it is thought that on average each person eats twice as much meat as the average Chinese person.
Less Meat, Less Heat: Behind the Scenes with James Cameron & Arnold Schwarzenegger from WildAid.