India's Environment Minister suggests the world adopt vegetarianism if it is to tackle the greenhouse emission problem, writes Matt Wade in Delhi.

AS THE international community struggles to come up with a climate change deal, India's Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, has come up with a solution: don't eat beef.

He challenged the world to follow the example of millions in his country and eschew beef in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Ramesh, a vegetarian, said: ''The single most important measure that can be taken in the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to stop eating beef.''

He has strong support in his campaign against beef-eating from R. K. Pachauri, the leading Indian climate change scientist who headed the UN's influential panel on climate change.

''I'm happy that the minister is agreeing with me on this,'' Dr Pachauri said.

''If you look at the beef cycle today, you first clear forests, which increases emissions, then you feed cattle all kinds of food grain, which is energy intensive, and then you kill and refrigerate these animals, and then they are transported long distances. Then you buy it and refrigerate it. If you count all the emissions associated with this entire cycle, it is huge.''

Last year, a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation study found that meat production accounted for about a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Ramesh's comments come days before the Copenhagen summit on climate change, where the positions of India and China will be crucial to any international deal.

India has argued consistently that the main responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases must be taken by wealthy Western countries with high per capita emissions. It has resisted pressure to adopt binding targets for limiting its own greenhouse emissions. Indian officials say any climate change treaty must be equitable.

Dr Puchauri said the Indian Government was well within its rights to expect more from rich countries. ''The developed world has just not lived up to its obligations or responsibilities,'' he said.

''The concentration of these gases in the atmosphere is entirely the result of 150 years of industrialisation and so-called economic development in the developed world, as a result of which we have the problem we have today.''

But he also said India needed to do more to project what it was doing domestically to mitigate emissions.

India's position on climate change is liable to come under fresh scrutiny this week when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Washington for talks with US President Barack Obama.