The COP28 climate conference has become the grand stage for climate change enthusiasts to spotlight the environmental havoc wreaked by the agricultural sector. Taking center stage is a first-of-its-kind “agricultural roadmap” focused on reducing meat dependency while steering carnivores toward the enigmatic realm of “meat alternatives.” It’s a familiar tune – the UN has advocated for a departure from animal-based diets for years, citing their “significant environmental impact.” According to their gospel, choosing plant-based foods over meat could reduce an individual’s annual carbon footprint by 2.1 tons.
A study from March 2021 published in the Nature Food Journal alleges that the global food system, which includes land-use alterations, waste management, packaging, and agricultural practices, accounts for approximately 34% of the total worldwide emissions. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization also claims that livestock accounts for about 14.5% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The UN FAO road map was created to shape policy decisions aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of the worldwide agriculture sector. Unlike past COP summits that primarily emphasized emissions from the power, transportation, and manufacturing sectors, the roadmap focuses on the environmental hazards of global agricultural practices.
Jeremy Coller, the mastermind behind the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return Initiative, points an accusatory finger at meat and dairy corporations, highlighting their failure to curb emissions. He insists on a dire need for an intensified policy focusing on the d food and agriculture sectors, drawing parallels between food system emissions, energy, and transport. According to Coller, agriculture accounts for more than 40% of global methane emissions.
Coller expresses the hope among investors that the first-ever “food and agriculture road map” will serve as a catalyst for transitioning towards the 1.5-degree emissions goal while fostering a “more sustainable” food system.
Kaveh Zahedi, the director of the FAO Office of Climate Change, said that solutions to address climate change already exist. These solutions, ranging from agroforestry to sustainable livestock practices, offer multiple benefits by contributing to climate change mitigation and supporting the sustainable use of biodiversity while enhancing food security.
Beyond advocating for decreased meat consumption in Western nations, the FAO roadmap addressed farmers’ ability to cope with “erratic weather” and offers strategies for mitigating emissions from food waste and fertilizer use.
America is one of the largest countries for meat consumption, eating an estimated 124 kilograms per person annually. In May, John Kerry took an opportunity to lecture Americans for not getting on board with his agricultural climate change mitigation strategy. As the global population recently surpassed eight billion, Kerry warned that emissions from the food system alone are projected to contribute another half a degree of warming by mid-century.
But, based on federal data, the dire picture painted by Kerry is at odds with reality. Agriculture in the United States only contributes around 10% to the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. America has proactively implemented numerous solutions to address the sector’s impact on climate change. As a result, the nation’s agricultural sector now constitutes only 1.4% of global agricultural emissions.
In response to Kerry’s attack, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) lauded American farmers and ranchers as “climate heroes” and expressed concern over potential regulations that could impact U.S. producers. He cautioned that such measures would not effectively address global climate change.
Thompson further warned the Biden administration against the risk of outsourcing production to foreign countries with less stringent emissions standards and unfriendly regimes. Citing data from the American Farm Bureau Federation, Thompson pointed out that U.S. farmers achieve over three times the production compared to their inputs and highlighted significant emissions reductions within America’s pork and beef production strategies.
In a twist of irony, as the FAO report recommends a shift towards plant-based diets with the full support of the UN, approximately one-third of the food vendors at COP28 continue to offer meat options. Carnivorous participants can choose between participants a meaty food menu, including “succulent meat slabs,” Philly cheesesteaks, “juicy beef burgers,” and barbecue.
Somehow, the summit organizers are framing this menu as a triumph, asserting that it aligns with their dedication to delivering “environmentally sustainable, socially responsible, delicious, and nutritious food and beverage” options.
There may be a push to reduce commoners’ meat consumption, but at least the elites can still savor their steak.