The grand strategic narratives around the COP21 conference in Paris will barely touch on one crucial aspect – meat and the massive greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing the livestock needed for it.
The Paris talks are of vital importance, not just for climate change itself but for framing what kind of food policy follows. Why does food matter for climate change? Well, it’s a major driving factor. The UN’s own Special Rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter says it well, “There is no doubt in the scientific community that the impacts of livestock production [on climate change] are massive.” In fact, a study written by two senior economists at the World Bank showed that the livestock-meat sector of the economy is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. But for some reason it barely gets a mention in Paris. It seems that in at least this one respect, the conference is in denial.
Don’t hold your breath for the conference to recognize this, much less use the feared “V word”. While sobering evidence like this has mounted for years, climate change policy makers have focused their attention on energy rather than food. This policy blind spot is because tackling the emissions from producing food means tackling consumers’ food choices, and they’re simply afraid.
The livestock sector’s impact on climate change has been persistently neglected – in both policy and practice – for a long time. Unlike other sectors such as waste, transport and energy, in which greenhouse gas emissions reductions have been attempted through varying means such as taxes, incentives or subsidies, the livestock sector has enjoyed an unprecedented freedom to carry on with “business as usual.”
But the environment simply can’t stand business as usual and demands courage from us all. Without tackling the problem of animal agriculture, we will not be able to solve the climate change problem.
To learn more about the meat connection to global warming, see our Global Warming Flyer.