Opinion: COP26 Shortcomings on Addressing Animal Agriculture and Climate Change


COP26, the twenty sixth annual Conference of the Parties, is a summit designed to barter parts for speedy coverage motion from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This 12 months the COP26 was tasked with discovering, and performing upon, urgent areas of local weather change to maintain the worldwide warming charge beneath 1.5 Celsius earlier than 2030. Many nations independently signed on to NetZero carbon emissions commitments together with the US and the host nation, the UK. However, regardless of these formidable objectives, meals techniques—together with agriculture and particularly meals and weight loss plan—had been largely thought of out of bounds amongst audio system and programming. 

Agriculture contributes between 30 to 40 p.c of all greenhouse gasoline emissions (GHGs)—the first contributor to world warming—amongst different critical environmental hazards akin to deforestation, soil nutrient entropy, water poisoning, and extra. Despite this enormous affect to ecological techniques and local weather, particular high-level talks about agriculture comprised lower than 5 p.c of all official negotiations and lower than 10 p.c of aspect occasions, favoring the much less controversial subject of renewable power.

The obvious local weather drawback

Scientists in local weather and human well being—together with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)—all agree that meat consumption and manufacturing is essentially the most pressing subject to contemplate when tackling local weather change. Environmental advocates demand coverage modifications to scale back manufacturing between 40 to 79 p.c as quickly as attainable. Most agree that even when all fossil gasoline use had been to be stopped tomorrow, that alone wouldn’t be sufficient to sufficiently sluggish the speed of worldwide warming, not to mention start to reverse it. 

The single largest contributor of GHGs—together with carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide—is agriculture. Animal agriculture is the most important emissions contributor inside agriculture, with waste, manure, want for refrigeration, and multi-stage transportation all compounding the emissions from the animals themselves. Nonetheless, conversations about GHG emissions nearly solely targeted on emission contributions from the power sector, akin to the worldwide initiative to finish coal and shift away from oil in favor of renewable power. However, as a delegate from Nicaragua, Bernis Cunningham will let you know, initiatives to deliver renewable power, akin to hydroelectricity to creating nations, are sometimes only a smoke display to fund extra damaging practices. He believes that the apply of “offsetting,” results in the “greenwashing of false funding and development” the place damaging practices like deforestation and gentrification are cloaked in deliberately misleading “green marketing” to permit business-as-usual, or worse.

Why are meals and agriculture overlooked of the dialog? 

“Energy is the fastest and most direct way to tackle methane emissions,” mentioned Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Senior Scientist Dr. Steve Hamburg, one of many principal organizers of an occasion pavilion referred to as Methane Moment. “Diet is just too controversial, we just don’t know viable solutions and the data isn’t conclusive.” A curious assertion from such an esteemed scientist and an professional on methane to make when the proof about livestock contributions is obvious and the buyer readiness for change within the world north has been properly established. The dialog with Dr. Hamburg continued by the same old protection of indigenous peoples and cultural consuming patterns, paying specific concern to folks within the Global South—who are sometimes paternalistically painted as future victims of would-be northern insurance policies ought to they modify—and ignored as victims of the present Global North’s appetites. The science is obvious: nearly all of whole GHG emissions and whole local weather change affect comes from the Global North. Studies have proven that shifting agricultural manufacturing and altering dietary patterns towards extra sustainable plant-based diets within the Global North alone might make a large affect (UNEP estimated round 25 p.c) on local weather change. 


The official EDF place on livestock emissions was introduced throughout a US Center coverage panel led by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The EDF advice is for meals components to be included in ruminant animal feed so as to cut back enteric fermentation (the gasoline constructed up in animal stomachs whereas consuming). This strategy and a name for extra emissions-controlled manure options appear to be the American—and main meat producing nations akin to Argentina’s—place on tackling the livestock contribution to GHGs. Putting extra chemical brokers in animal feed for revenue and human profit is an answer we now have seen many instances earlier than and with calamitous impacts. Just one instance is the {industry}’s use of antibiotics to manage the unfold of illness and improve whole physique mass that contributes to the bioaccumulation of and resistance to antibiotics within the meals provide. Another instance is development hormones, the usage of which brought on important fallout for each human and non-human animals and at the moment are banned in a number of areas. 

The argument for regenerative agriculture

On the opposite aspect of the agriculture dialog are advocates demanding regenerative agriculture. This is a nature-based resolution to tackling agriculture’s affect on local weather that includes rising biodiversity of forests and crops utilizing a symbiotic relationship between animals and the ranges on which they graze. Not so coincidentally, the convention was situated in Scotland the place over 70 p.c of animal agriculture is finished historically by open grazing on land not in any other case obtainable for improvement or crops. Food Policy Analyst Alex Lockwood, working with The Vegan Society, has executed a powerful quantity of analysis into presenting a unique mannequin of land use within the UK that’s presently relegated to grazing. Working with meals coverage consultants on the University of Sunderland, The Vegan Society developed Planting Value within the Food System—a data-driven coverage report that proposes what is named a “Just Transition” strategy.

“From the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), we know what all the important pieces of the problem are, so we have all the ingredients but we still must test and develop the recipe before we can put it on the menu.” 
—Martina Fleckenstein

For agriculture, a Just Transition is a farmer-first strategy to adapting the {industry} that ensures financial viability alongside local weather enhancements and contains academic assets and the assist of social and governmental companies. The Planting Value in Food report assists animal farmers to seek out crops that develop even within the tough lands of the highland UK (akin to chickpeas) and outlines the numerous advantages of accelerating the home manufacturing and provide of soil-enriching legumes. The Vegan Society is cautious to notice that the UK consumes a excessive quantity of beans presently, nonetheless grows none domestically. Curiously, whereas there’s widespread acceptance for regenerative agriculture, the central coverage makers and scientists from EDF and organizations just like the National Farmers Union within the US additionally oppose regenerative agriculture as an industry-based resolution, partly as a result of the logical results of regenerative agriculture is way much less total animal meat produced.  

The organizations striving for change

Like The Vegan Society, established non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and new initiatives just like the Plant-Based Treaty search to provoke assist for world variations wanted to fulfill local weather and animal welfare objectives. Organizations from all over the world gathered to plead the case of the meals and agriculture affect on planetary well being. These organizations had been additionally joined by non-public {industry} corporations, who as an alternative of selling their manufacturers, had been targeted on the essential activity at hand. However, notably absent had been positions from teams sometimes allied on this subject, akin to Greenpeace who additionally targeted fully on contributions from fossil fuels. The work to push for meals techniques to vary to assist the local weather disaster was being executed by the huge outer equipment of the COP26. Thousands of devoted people held aspect occasions each inside and outdoors of the restricted and elite areas of the convention. These advocates are slowly making inroads to sympathetic heads of state and governmental company gamers. 


ProVeg International was a distinguished drive in aspect occasions all through the COP26. Collaborating with many different worldwide organizations, the group had a number of representatives targeted on coverage. It isn’t any surprise, as ProVeg presently runs a number of campaigns addressing these subjects immediately. ProVeg not too long ago printed novel consumer-priorities analysis demonstrating the European willingness to scale back meat and undertake plant-based alternate options. They additionally preserve a global collective partnership (Smart Proteins, aimed toward supporting the event of progressive proteins from vegetation) and additionally supply grant funding designed to assist individuals from decrease revenue nations entry funds to innovate options of their native areas.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) not too long ago began a meals and agriculture options group of their Germany outpost that’s now three years outdated and even expanded this system to emphasise dietary options. The group helps a plant-rich strategy, which it calls a Planet-Based Diet, and participated in panels alongside animal-rights organizations Four-Paws, Humane Society, and ProVeg on the World Health Organization Pavillion. WWF advocates for a discount in meat manufacturing and has been closely concerned in pushing the UN agriculture and local weather group, Koroniva, to incorporate a spotlight on meals system contributions past meals manufacturing. 

“There is no emphasis on other stages of the food system, and I think food waste will be the next likely target to include when discussing major international policy around emissions contributions,” mentioned Global Policy Manager of WWF International Martina Fleckenstein. She echoed sentiments that meals and weight loss plan are deemed too controversial and believes that shifting the dialog to meals will discover extra assist within the subject of meals waste as a subsequent step. “From the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), we know what all the important pieces of the problem are, so we have all the ingredients but we still must test and develop the recipe before we can put it on the menu.” 

The WWF UK additionally not too long ago authored a paper printed in Nature Food with a gaggle of Official Youth Policy Constituents of the UN (YOUNGO) identified collectively as Food@COP. The article requires a world shift to plant-rich diets, an finish to subsidies of animal agriculture, and different coverage levers aimed toward becoming a member of human and planetary well being. Following from the article, an open letter based mostly on the article is presently on the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) web site and seeks signatures from scientists, healthcare professionals, coverage members, and different brokers of change to affix in assist. Food@COP fashioned on the UNFSS and set its sights first on altering the catering choices for meals served throughout the occasion space and efficiently secured the promise that fifty p.c of the meals served at COP26 can be plant-based meals. 


The Good Food Institute (GFI) sees cultivated meat as a solution to deal with each the environmental and animal welfare issues of meat manufacturing with out relying on conduct change to get there. GFI’s Bruce Friedrich additionally notes that these novel technology-based options alleviate issues in regards to the potential lack of high quality protein sources and cultural meals for the world’s various populations. With different proteins, folks can proceed to eat and reside as they at all times have, and with the appearance of cultivated meat, nations with restricted capacity for agricultural manufacturing—akin to desert areas within the Middle East—might now develop their very own meals manufacturing techniques. Friedrich believes that worth parity between cultivated meat and historically produced animal meat is just not solely achievable however will occur ahead of we beforehand estimated. The first scalable manufacturing manufacturing unit simply opened within the US and the USDA simply developed an Institute for Cellular Agriculture at Tufts University. Cultivated meat is advancing in different nations like Israel and Singapore, too. In distinction to nature-based options like biodiversity and regenerative agriculture, cultivated meat might cut back practically 93 p.c of all GHGs related to the manufacturing of animal-proteins by slicing the animals out. 

Technology options appeal to a spread of stakeholders. During a joint transient on the brand new bi-lateral initiative on local weather, AIM for Climate, Her Excellency Mariam Almheiri of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reminded us that many nations like her personal import 90 p.c of their meals provide. The lack of obtainable land assets means technological options might transform meals sovereignty in these nations, and Almheiri spoke immediately about UAE intentions to pursue cultivated meat. 

The Tzu Chi Foundation is a female-led Buddhist group based mostly in Taiwan that operates internationally. The group offers catastrophe aid and healthcare for among the world’s most susceptible, together with victims of devastating local weather change-related disasters akin to tsunamis and hurricanes. Tzu Chi is an official coverage guide for the UN, and has a stronger, and extra established relationship with change makers than another plant-based group. However, as a faith-based group, they face discrimination as a result of accoring to Tzu Chi, “leaders of the world tell us that as a faith-based organization we have no obligations to NetZero.” This is without doubt one of the many ways in which coverage negotiations exclude NGOs that aren’t financially tied to the industries inflicting the issues.  


Compassion in World Farming (CIWF)—a world nonprofit began by a farmer that works immediately with farmers—goals to assist folks perceive the numerous devastating penalties of industrialized farming. CIWF was the one animal-rights group with its personal sales space within the convention’s revered Blue Zone, and was thereby capable of interact with delegates in a unique and extra serendipitous approach. From contained in the CIWF sales space, you could possibly overhear conversations with world leaders the place they realized for the primary time the affect of commercial farming on the well being and welfare of their constituents. One such revelation included the financial minister of one of many high meat producing nations within the Global South speculating out loud that meat consumption is perhaps tied to the persistent well being and fertility points they’re witnessing in his nation. 

Oatly (Sweden), Huera Foods (Spain), The Vegan Kind (UK), The Vegetarian Butcher (Netherlands), and Aleph Farms (Israel), amongst others, had been all current and advocating for change, inserting their platforms far forward of their manufacturers. The constant theme: the elephant within the room. Indeed the UK authorities, Huera, the Plant-Based Treaty, and The Vegetarian Butcher all independently launched campaigns with that very same central message: we’re ignoring the elephant within the room, and it’s in our day by day meals selections. 

Who will get to have a voice?

Climate activist Greta Thunberg referred to as COP26 the “most exclusionary COP ever” as entry was restricted for NGOs for the primary half of week one. Further, ableism, sexism, and racism had been quantifiable in occasions and speaker time, and widespread patronizing and paternalistic approaches had been favored at each flip. Elitism and racism appeared inherent within the avoidance of subjects of agriculture and meals—on the one hand audio system decried the results for marginalized individuals whereas additionally denying them a voice. Cunningham, talked about above, and Stephanie Cabovianco, an official occasion delegate from Argentina, had been anticipated to take part in a panel on sustainable meals techniques on the Methane Moment, however like each different speak on the topic on the Methane Moment, it was canceled. When Cabovianco inquired about why the panel was canceled, she was advised that her perspective wasn’t supportable and that she didn’t symbolize her nation. The American scientist Dr. Hamburg chatting with her insisted that he, as an alternative, knew higher. 


The heated alternate between Cabovianco and Dr. Hamburg underscores the struggle for marginalized voices of the Global South to be heard, particularly when these voices name for adaptation outdoors of the curiosity of personal {industry} with energy and management within the areas they symbolize. Further, it highlights that these from high-income nations, just like the US, who cry out in regards to the disappearance of cultural traditions amongst low-income nations are the primary to dismiss the Black and Brown voices from those self same low-income nations when they’re those calling for change. The alternate between the Argentine delegate and the US scientist ended with Cabovianco immediately accusing him of dismissing her as a result of she is a Latin American lady. “Don’t make this about a white man and a Latina woman, okay, I’ve worked with Argentina longer than you’ve been alive,” Cabovianco recounts his response.

The want for extra constant messaging

Without positions and predominant messages from COP26 management, the necessity to deal with the local weather change contributions from weight loss plan won’t be able to achieve floor. For instance, menus for meals bought throughout the COP26 convention all included the CO2 emissions in kilograms (kgs) subsequent to every meals—a nudge approach just like stamping energy on restaurant menus. Not surprisingly, the plant-based choices confirmed considerably decrease CO2 emissions in comparison with the animal-based choices. Further evaluation reveals that regardless of guarantees for 50-percent plant-based choices throughout the Blue Zone, solely 38 p.c of the menu objects had been certainly plant-based. The common CO2 emissions of the animal-based objects was 1.75 kgs—practically double the steering that meals emissions ought to stay beneath 1 kg per serving. The plant-based objects averaged solely 0.33 kgs—lower than one fifth the emissions of their animal-based alternate options and properly throughout the steering.


Taking under consideration the acquisition frequency based mostly on interviews with meals service workers at COP26, the GHG contribution from animal-sourced meals was estimated to be 450 kgs larger than the plant-based choices per day—over 35 instances extra. Easily witnessed had been the strains on the meat grilling station on the occasion in comparison with “grab’n’go” sandwich stations, which had been sometimes the place the plant-based meals choices had been. And but, the plant-based choices that had been obtainable had been ceaselessly out of inventory. Catering workers mentioned plant-based objects had been well-liked, however that that they had practically 1 / 4 of the provision in comparison with animal-based meals, and they had been hardly ever restocked. The YOUNGO initiative Food@COP remains to be pushing for extra sustainable meals selections on the convention and notes that this 12 months remains to be a big step ahead in comparison with earlier years. However, with the COP27 deliberate for Egypt, issues in regards to the chance for a plant-based menu nonetheless abound. 

For extra on COP26, learn:

Billie Eilish, Moby, and Joaquin Phoenix Demand COP26 Stop Ignoring Animal AgricultureBiden Urged to Slash US Animal Production by 50 Percent by 2040COP26 Puts Carbon Footprint on Event Menus. Why Is Bacon Still Served?

Suzannah Gerber is a conduct change and vitamin scientist and a fellow of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA) working on plant-based dietary analysis at Tufts University, in Boston. Also referred to as Chef Suzi, her ebook Plant-Based Gourmet was launched in 2020 and is a high ranked ebook for connoisseur cooking all over the world. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @ChefSuziGerber. 

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