Parties agreed to work over the next few years on a series of issues relating to agriculture and climate change. They also agreed to streamline two separate technical discussions on this topic into one process.
Now countries have now been asked to submit their views on what should be included in this work by 31 March 2018. This could provide an opportunity for animal protection organisations to persuade their governments to make inputs into the need for fundamental changes to current food and farming systems. Particularly as pledges made thus far under the Paris Agreement are not enough to meet the target of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius this century, and agriculture has the potential to make a massive difference to this shortfall. Indeed, no other sector holds as much potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Jason Funk, Associate Director for land use at the Center for Carbon Removal, says the decision itself, rather than what it says, is the most significant part of the agreement. He told Carbon Brief: “I’ve watched the parties deliberate and negotiate over agriculture issues since 2011 and they have been close many times. But this is the first time they have reached consensus about how to work on agriculture. The stakes are very high and I have witnessed the deep divides among the parties on issues that connect agriculture and climate change. As I see it, this decision signals that they have reached a level of trust and common understanding about each other’s views, and that trust and understanding will pave the way for them to work successfully together from here forward”.
In a news article, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) welcomed the outcome on agriculture, calling it a “major step” to address the need to adapt agriculture to climate change and meet a growing global demand for food. The FAO already has a Strategy on Climate Change (July 2017). However, WAN has concerns that it may not yet be accepting the need for radical change in food systems. It states: “best practices and technologies in livestock feeding and manure management could help the global livestock sector cut its outputs of global warming gases by up to 30 percent”.
Speaking at COP 23, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva raised a number of important points. He said: “It is not enough to only transform the way we produce food. Climate change mitigation and adaptation must be integrated into the entire food system: from production to transportation, from processing to food consumption, and in both rural and urban areas". However, he did also mention “climate-smart intensification”, which is somewhat concerning. Furthermore, the problem is not restricted to “the way we produce food”, but also about what we eat. Clearly what we eat has implications for climate change; as well as our environment, natural resources and our health.
The need to tackle food waste is attracting increased acceptance – and necessarily so, with the FAO’s own report on Food Loss and Food Waste stating that about a third of global food production is lost or wasted annually. The wider question of wasted calories needs to be taken into account in future work on agriculture and climate. In terms of food conversion, feeding cereals and soy to animals is unnecessarily destroying our environment, exacerbating climate change, and taking food from the mouths of the poor – simply because much food value is lost in the (energy and resource inefficient) conversion from plant to animal matter. Research shows that for every 100 calories that are fed to animals in the form of crops, on average just 17-30 calories are received in the form of meat or milk, and some studies indicate the conversion rate for meat is much lower. This is the larger picture of food waste, which must be included.
The closing plenary of COP 23 requested that the two subsidiary bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change work together on addressing issues related to agriculture, taking into consideration the vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches towards food security. These include areas of action on soil, livestock, nutrient and water management, adaptation and on the food security and socio-economic impacts of climate change across the agriculture sectors. Animal protection organisations have the opportunity to influence the agenda for this process, by encouraging their government to include key asks in their submissions, such as:
- Agricultural corporations must be held responsible for their environmental impacts. Tough regulatory systems are needed to prevent such impacts, underpinned by the precautionary principle. These should include action to ensure that products reflect the full costs of production, including fees for any allowable air pollution and greenhouse gas impacts (plus disincentives/penalties for deleterious actions).
- There should be a realignment of support and incentives for agro-ecological agriculture, including silvo-pastoral systems.
- Food policy and agricultural strategies must be reviewed and strengthened in order to move away from polluting and unsustainable foods, towards healthier and more environmentally-friendly options.
- There needs to be concerted consumer awareness programs to move society towards optimum diets – “predominantly plant-based” as recommended by the World Health Organisation on health grounds, but also best for our climate and environment.
A 2014 study on this subject by the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen found that if current meat consumption trends persist by 2050 there will be 120 billion farmed animals raised each year, and the agricultural sector will emit almost the entirety of allowable emissions to keep global temperatures under the target 2°C increase in the Paris Agreement. Firm action on food demand management and responsible nutrition education is essential if we are to tackle climate change.
Photo credit: Now is not the time to be silent - Climate sculpture in Rheinaue park for COP23 by Takver used under CC BY SA 2.0