July 13, 2024

Last week, the leaders of the world’s seven largest economies met in Italy to discuss several pressing global issues during the annual gathering known as the G7 summit. They agreed to lend Russia’s frozen assets to Ukraine, called for a cease-fire in Gazaand promised to launch a migration coalition.

Those discussions, which concluded on Saturday, came right on the heels of the annual Bonn climate change conference, which lays the groundwork for the United Nations’ annual climate meeting. In Bonn, Germany, an enduring dispute over who should provide trillions of dollars in climate aid to poor nations has once again ended with little progress towards a solution, dominating the agenda to such an extent that discussions on other issues often returned to financial debates.

Heads of government at both conferences barely addressed what may be one of the most pressing questions facing the world: how to respond to the Animal agriculture plays a major role in driving climate change. This continues a pattern of evasion around this issue on the international stage, which advocates and scientists find increasingly frustrating, given that shrinking the emissions footprint of global livestock production and consumption is an essential step in mitigating climate change.

“We’re essentially seeing the cow in the room being ignored,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We see these kinds of vague references to the need to change diets, but still a refusal to call out animal agriculture as by far the main cause of agricultural emissions, as well as other forms of environmental destruction in food and agricultural systems.”

Although estimates vary, peer-reviewed studies found that the global food system accounts for about one-third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Animals raised for consumption generate 32 percent of the world’s methane emissions, and agriculture is the largest source of anthropogenic methane pollution. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas to carbon, and it is 80 to 90 percent more potent than carbon in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. This is why many scientists believe that the aggressive fight against humanity’s methane pollution the fastest way to slow planetary warming. And methane is not the only environmental problem associated with meat and dairy. Although animal agriculture provides 17 percent of the world’s calories, it is responsible 80 percent of global agricultural land use and 41 percent of global agricultural water usewhich translates into a major impact on biodiversity.

Despite the mountain of evidence establishing a link between the food we eat and climate change, the topic has only recently started to come up at international conferences. The big breakthrough came at last December’s UN climate conference, COP28, where more than two-thirds of the countries that attended, including the US and the European Union, has pledged to take steps to reduce the colossal climate footprint of food systems. Around the same time, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, had its first ever delivery of a roadmap for transforming the global food system to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

The FAO Roadmap came under criticism because the list of proposed solutions almost completely omitted the need to reduce human consumption of meat and dairy. Some researchers later asked the FAO to withdraw its reportclaim that it misrepresented their work by reducing meat intake as a means of reducing agricultural emissions.

The failure of delegates at COP28 to directly address the causal link between meat consumption and climate change was only repeated by G7 nations and the Bonn climate conference attendees. These failures show how “incredibly politically charged” this issue is in multinational gatherings dominated by countries with very high levels of meat and dairy consumptionsaid Martin Frick, who heads the World Food Programme’s office in Berlin.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but we’re not moving fast enough,” Frick said. “Unless we get really serious about food, and look at it from a systems approach, ask ourselves the hard questions and give ourselves the hard answers, I don’t see how we can fix climate change.”

Still, some do see progress.

“Just six months ago, 159 governments at the world leadership level made a commitment to include food in their climate plans,” said Edward Davey, senior advisor to the Food and Land Use Coalition based at the World Resources Institute. The COP28 pledge includes incorporating the climate footprint of food into each country’s “nationally determined contribution,” or NDC — a specific emission target set by the Paris Agreement.

Countries are expected to submit new NDCs next Februaryand Davey said those updates will indicate whether those countries are taking the pledge seriously.

Until then, how the subject emerges in international gatherings is the next best measure. “I wanted to see food really get its moment in the sun in the climate conversation,” Davey said. “And I think what we saw was that the Bonn talks were largely focused on finance, and less on specific sectors.”

Food was not completely absent from the agenda of the G7 summit. At the gathering in southern Italy, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced the launch of the Apulia Food Systems Initiative, a climate and food policy aimed at investing in resilient food systems for poorer countries. It connects an unknown amount of funding to strengthen agricultural climate adaptation, with most aid awarded across the African continentwhere climate change is increasing food insecurity. The initiative will support a crop research effort led by the US State Department, a project to create more resilient coffee supply chains, and technical support for the implementation of the COP28 food and agriculture pledge in countries’ NDCs.

Not surprisingly, it does not include any projects to decarbonize animal agriculture. “Livestock is clearly a very good example of what has not been tackled directly, in the sense that there is no mention of livestock, per se,” says Francesco Rampa, head of the think tank European Center for Development Policy Management’s team for sustainable food systems. , which assisted the Italian G7 Presidency to develop the initiative. Rampa is quick to add that this is because the Puglia plan is structured to help poor nations that are negligible emissions from animal agricultureand not higher income countries with significant contributions – such as the G7 countries themselves.

Previous G7 food initiatives have faced criticism for limited clarity and accountability around financial promises, for not reaching small farmers, and for failing to facilitate a transition to more sustainable and equitable food systems in the places they want to help. Several experts told Grist they don’t expect the new Apulia pledge to reverse that trend.

“I’m skeptical about the ability of the international community to act in a way, with the urgency that this whole issue requires,” said William Dietz, director of research and policy at the Global Food Institute at George Washington University. said. “We have a generation of leaders like Nero who fumble while the world burns.”

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