Recommendation to eat less meat may be the most substantive outcome of a United Nations conference on global warming since the COP conference series began
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates––A global assembly of COP-rolites including an unprecedentedly large delegation representing the meat and livestock industries are gathered in Dubai for COP28, the twenty-eighth annual Conference Of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Called the United Nations Climate Change Conference for short, or simply COP28, the conference will be underway from November 30, 2023 until December 12, 2023.
Greenhouse gases & jabberfests
Historically, United Nations Climate Change Conferences have been suspected of generating more greenhouse gases in endless jabberfests than they prevent.
On the other hand, the United Nations Climate Change Conferences have produced several treaties, resolutions, and non-binding resolutions since 1995 which may amount to next to nothing, but may be considered better than doing nothing at all while the world heats up and hot air rises.
Oil sheik leads refocus on food
COP28 is hosted by Ahmed Al Jaber, minister of industry and advanced technology for the United Arab Emirates, and coincidentally president of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
A Jaber-fest might be anticipated, but for one detail: the last thing any oil sheik is likely to want is renewed attention to the fossil fuel contribution to global warming.
Therefore the COP28 agenda tilts toward beating meat.
Explained Bloomberg News senior food and agriculture reporter Agnieszka de Sousa in a November 25, 2023 COP28 preview, “The world’s most developed nations will be told to curb their excessive appetite for meat as part of the first comprehensive plan to bring the global agrifood industry into line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement.”
Meat accounts for more greenhouse gases than transport
Food production, according to United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization [FAO] data, accounts for a third of all of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming, more actually than fossil fuel-powered transportation, the next largest contributor.
Meat production accounts for 60% of total greenhouse gas emissions from the food industry.
“Nations that over-consume meat will be advised to limit their intake,” de Sousa wrote, “while developing countries — where under-consumption of meat adds to a prevalent nutrition challenge — will need to improve their livestock farming, according to the FAO.
“Policy & investment decisions”
“Although non-binding,” de Sousa acknowledged, the FAO recommendations are “expected to inform policy and investment decisions and give a push to the food industry’s climate transition, which has lagged other sectors in commitments.
“Other recommendations,” de Sousa predicted, “will cover issues from how farmers adapt to increasingly erratic weather to tackling key sources of emissions like food waste and post-harvest loss and fertilizer use.”
The FAO guidance “will be rolled out in three parts over the next few years,” de Souza said, “to eventually include country-specific recommendations.”
Meanwhile, de Sousa noted, “The United Arab Emirates have called on governments to sign a declaration committing to include food transformation into their national [greenhouse gas] reduction and adaptation plans.
“The COP28 summit,” DeSousa added, “will have a Food, Agriculture and Water Day on December 10, 2023, a first-ever day dedicated to food systems.”
COP28 food to be “two-thirds plant-based”
“Catering for the summit will be two-thirds plant-based,” deSouza finished, a description which could apply to a hamburger with lettuce, onion, tomato, and a pickle between two buns.
Even if two-thirds of the food at COP28 is vegan, what that actually means is that the COP-rolites at the COP28 summit will be fed proportionately much more meat than most of the people in the world normally consume, even when not attending global conferences focused on flatulence.
“The average American consumes about 127 kilograms of meat a year compared with seven kilograms in Nigeria and just three kilograms in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the FAO data,” deSouza observed.
“The problem is inequality”
Suggested Anay Mridul of the Hong Kong-based online periodical Green Queen, “The problem is inequality – the GlobalNorth is responsible for 92% of our excess emissions, but 91% of all deaths related to extreme weather [a byproduct of global warming] occur in developing countries, which are mostly in the Global South.”
The oil company that Al Jaber himself “has not disclosed its emissions or published a sustainability report since 2016,” Mridul mentioned.
“But the hosts are not the only body mired in controversy,” Mridul continued. “The FAO itself was subject to an investigation that revealed it censored and undermined work by its own officials on the methane emissions caused by the animal agriculture industry, following pressure from livestock lobby groups.
“’Even if livestock contributes 18% to climate change, the FAO shall not say that,” its livestock analysis head recalled being told by a senior in 2009. ‘It’s not in the interest of the FAO to highlight environmental impacts.’”
Arthur Neslin of The Guardian reported the details on October 20, 2023.
“There are also concerns about the continued decline of the FAO’s estimate of livestock methane emissions, “ Mridul recounted, “which was calculated to be 18% in 2006, then changed to 14.5% in 2013, and is now cited at 11.2%. Other research puts this number at 20%, or between 16.5% and 28.1%. And one study explained that the FAO’s use of modeling over verifiable monitoring data could underestimate methane emissions by the livestock industry by up to 90% in countries like the U.S.”
Meat industry sends an army
Updated Rachel Sherrington of The Guardian on November 29, 2023, as delegates and observers arrived in Dubai for COP28, “Documents seen by The Guardian and DeSmog,” a climate news web site founded in 2006, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, “show how the world’s largest meat company, JBS, is planning to come out in ‘full force’ at the summit, along with other big industry hitters such as the Global Dairy Platform and the North American Meat Institute.
“The documents, which were produced by the industry-funded Global Meat Alliance,” Sherrington said, “emphasize the [meat] industry’s desire to promote ‘our scientific evidence’ at the summit.
Dairy produces more greenhouse gas than aviation
“Meat and dairy companies are under increasing pressure over their large greenhouse gas footprints,” Sherrington summarized. “The dairy industry is responsible for 3.4% of global human-induced emissions, a higher share than aviation.
“Animal agriculture is the largest emitter of methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide when measured over a 20-year period,” Sherrington continued.
“Scientists say that unless swift action is taken, methane from agriculture alone will push the world beyond a 1.5C (2.7F) rise in temperature above preindustrial levels that risks tipping the world into irreversible climate breakdown.
Wolves dressed as sheep
“The meat sector’s largest emitters plan to be on the ground at Cop28 in large numbers, the documents show,” and they are not necessarily going to pose as what they are.
“At Cop27,” Sherrington remembered, “JBS, the world’s most polluting meat company, gained access to talks because it came as part of Brazil’s national delegation.
“Companies at the summit will be accompanied by lobby groups that represent them, some of which have a history of obstructive action,” Sherrington wrote.
The North American Meat Institute, for instance, “in 2022 was still questioning on its website whether climate change was caused by humans,” Sherrington said.
“Healthy soils can store carbon”
“While the leaked documents are aimed at the meat sector, they also show that dairy companies are planning on sending a ‘large delegation’ to Cop28,” Sherrington added.
“In a four-page set of arguments,” Sherrington summarized, “the Global Meat Alliance claims that producers can ‘play a key role in environmentally sustainable food systems’ and that the sector is ‘continuously driving towards carbon-friendly farming.’
“Several of these arguments reference the idea that grazing livestock can help maintain healthy soils, which can store carbon,” Sherrington explained. “This is often described as ‘regenerative agriculture.’”
However, Sherrington noted, “Scientists have said that soils are not a reliable way to store carbon in the long term, and that removals can be easily undone.”
Who are the “Global Meat Alliance”?
“The industry also heavily references the role of meat in relieving hunger in the global south,” Sherrington said, “claiming that it ‘plays a key role in reducing food insecurity and malnutrition.’ However, the United Nations Committee on World Food Security has repeatedly pointed out that hunger and malnutrition are not caused by a lack of food, pointing instead to problems with access, distribution and power.”
Fourteen of the 16 partners in the Global Meat Alliance “come from the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and North America,” Sherrington pointed out. “The remaining two partners are global lobby groups representing large companies and multiple countries.”
“Meat-eating worldwide is very unequal,” Sherrington mentioned in closing. “Europeans eat more than twice the global average, and consumption levels in north America and Australia are even higher. One 2018 study found western countries would have to reduce their meat intake by 90% to limit global heating to acceptable levels.”
The meat and dairy industry effort to evade blame for global warming may be assisted by a U.S. delegation including vice president Kamala Harris and John Kerry, the U.S. special envoy to the United Nations.
British prime minister Rishi Sunak and King Charles III are also in attendance.
Four Paws/Vier Pfoten speaks up
As of midnight on the eve of COP28, only one major international animal welfare organization, Four Paws, headquartered in Austria, appeared to have posted a statement on the issues.
“With food systems accounting for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, Four Paws [Vier Pfoten] considers this a crucial opportunity for governments to commit to the end of factory farming and a drastic reduction in global meat and dairy production.
“With emissions from animal agriculture accounting for at least 16.5% of climate-damaging emissions, we need to face the facts,” Four Paws chief executive officer Josef Pfabigan posted.
“Factory farming plays a key role in fueling the climate crisis. Whilst we all know the negative impacts of fossil fuels, we need to start talking about how the suffering of billions of animals in our current food system is also to blame.”
“Reduce the number of animals we farm”
“Currently,” Pfabigan said, “animals are bred to fit the needs of a broken system that prioritizes profit over climate concerns and subjects sentient beings to chronic stress, fear and pain. Another model based on positive animal welfare interventions is urgently needed.
“Most importantly,” Pfabigan emphasized, “fewer animals overall means fewer emissions and more space for the remaining animals to perform their natural behaviors.
“Unfortunately,” Pfabigan observed, “most countries are expanding their intensive livestock farming operations with an increasing belief in technical solutions, rather than real sustainable transformation of how we farm.”
Pfabigan called on the world to “reduce the number of animals we farm and give greater importance to animal welfare in relation to our environment.”
Will greenhouse gas reduction measures harm animal welfare?
The Stockholm Environmental Institute elaborated upon the same points in a paper produced for COP28 by Cleo Verkuijl, a visiting research fellow at the Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Program and Jeff Sebo, a New York University associate professor of environmental studies.
“There is a growing risk,” Verkuijl and Sebo wrote, “that interventions to cut greenhouse gas emissions from farmed animals will undermine these animals’ welfare as well as introducing new public health threats such as zoonoses.
“Consider ‘sustainable intensification,’” Verkuijl and Sebo said, “which aims to maintain or increase output without expanding land use or emissions. At first glance, this strategy appears to balance efficiency with sustainability. Yet it often leads to practices with harmful or unknown impacts on animal welfare, including genetic modification, intensive confinement, feed changes, and microbiome changes.
“Moreover, crowding animals together in small spaces can exacerbate the emergence of zoonoses — creating new pandemic risks
“Likewise,” Verkuijl and Sebo continued, “consider ‘species shift,’ which aims to replace the use of higher-emission animals like cows with the use of lower-emission animals like chickens and ‘blue foods’ like fish.
Chicken & fish farming is done with low regard for animal welfare
“For example, while per capita consumption in kg of meat has fallen in Germany in recent years,” Verkuijl and Sebo said, “the number of animals farmed per person has gone up, as people switch from red meat to white.
“While such changes might reduce emissions, they also increase suffering, since chicken and fish farming kill many more individuals per meal than cow farming,” and chicken and fish farming is done with much less regard for animal welfare.”
Suggested Verkuijl and Sebo, “The United Nations can encourage a shift toward plant-based food systems that produce win-win-win outcomes for humans, animals, and the environment. There is clear evidence that eating fewer animals and more plants would not only spare billions of animals per year, but also substantially improve human health in many settings, and decrease deforestation, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions.
“Scaling up the investment in alternative proteins – such as plant-based meat substitutes, cultivated meat, and fermentation-derived products – may also help reduce environmental and health impacts,” Verkuijl and Sebo concluded, “while alleviating the immense suffering inflicted on animals in factory farms.”