The invisible cow at COP25

Why changing agriculture and food-systems is necessary to prevent a climate disaster


A report of Linda Exenberger, Policy Advisor at FOUR PAWS, who was attending the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2019:

"This year’s UN Climate Change Conference COP25 was special: Due to civil unrest in Chile, the Conference had to move to Madrid. Within only 6 weeks the Spanish government managed to organize the huge event for more than 15.000 people. But that was not the only reason that made the COP25 special. The pressure on world leaders to finally take action is rising. Young people from all over the world are standing up and demanding a big change. It is about their future and this feeling of consternation and urgency was clearly discernible in the halls of COP25.

There is no planet B. This is something, everyone involved in climate discussions can agree on. If we look at the limited surfaces we have and how we use them, is it obvious that we need to change something. 70% of the world’s surface is used for livestock. Most of it is used to grow plants to feed the farm animals and half of all the crops we grow is fed to livestock and not to humans. This is not only linked to the lack of efficient resource use, but also the global inequalities when it comes to food (in)security. While 800 million people do not have enough to eat, almost 2 billion people have too much to eat and are overweight or even obese.

Unfortunately, the topic agriculture and food-system was disregarded in the past and was not a part of the agenda. But this COP was a bit different: Thanks to the special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about land use, that was published in August 2019, it is proven that our food-system causes 21-37% of total net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock sector is very resource-intensive and causes at least 14.5% of the emissions. It is obvious, that we need to change our consumption and production pattern, in order to prevent a climate disaster.

The IPCC report was presented at several side-events and at a main event with national delegates. The discussions focused on technologies for farmers to be more productive and adaptations to be more resilient towards the negative influences of climate change. The crucial role of consumers and the important recommendation of the IPCC report “dietary shift” and how governments can support healthier and climate friendlier diets were not part of the discussions.

The only people, who seemed to know that this is one of the biggest levers for change have been the young people. A youth delegate from Argentina, the country with the second highest meat consumption worldwide, stood up at the discussion round of a side-event. She suggested a more plant-based-diet as one of the solutions

to change the food-system. All the 5 panelists of this event told her, that food is a very personal decision and nobody should tell someone what to eat. It is true, food is a very personal matter and part of the culture and identity of people. But on the other hand, governments are responsible to set a political framework, that gives incentives to producers and consumers to make the right/sustainable choice.

Although the motto of the COP25 is “time for action”, the negotiations are more about technical details on the implementation of the Paris declaration. It is like an airplane, as one delegate from India put it. You would never take off without making sure, that there are life jackets under every seat. Next year at COP26 in Glasgow the plane should be ready to take off and then it is about concrete actions of the member states.

The demand of FOUR PAWS, the demand of young people, as well as health and environmental stakeholders will be louder than ever: Concrete steps towards a healthy and sustainable food-systems must be taken! We need to financially incentivize sustainable forms of agriculture and food-production. And ahead of this, we need effective political tools to change consumer behavior towards more animal-friendly, healthy and sustainable food-choices."

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