India, a stronghold of vegetarianism where the cow is a sacred animal for the majority Hindu population, has urged the rest of the world to give up eating beef to help reduce global warming.

"The single most important cause of (carbon) emissions is eating beef," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said during a speech on Thursday, his office told AFP.

"My formula is stop eating beef. This would stop the emission of methane," said the vegetarian minister.

Ramesh, who recently made headlines for disputing international research suggesting glaciers in the Himalayas are melting, made the remarks on Thursday at the launch of a UN report on world population in New Delhi.

Meat eating is common in India, albeit in smaller quantities than in Western countries. However, the vast majority of India's Hindus shun beef and the sizeable Muslim minority do not eat pork.

Non-meat eaters help in "climate mitigation", Ramesh said.

In 2008, Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also suggested that people should cut their meat consumption to help combat climate change.

His study found meat production accounts for a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts on climate change warn that without action the planet's rising temperatures could unleash potentially catastrophic change to earth's climate system, leading to hunger, drought, storms and massive species loss.