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The livestock in the room – what’s missing at COP21

News Section Icon Published 10/12/2015


The future of the planet is hanging in the balance as world leaders discuss ways to curb global warming at COP21 in Paris. Hopes are high for a deal, but with meat-heavy diets off the agenda, keeping to that 2℃ warming limit seems an impossible goal.

Despite the fact that livestock farming represents almost 15% of all GHG emissions – to put it into perspective, that’s more than all the cars, trains, planes and ships on the planet combined – it’s getting very little airtime at COP21.

Our researchers have analysed plans submitted by 118 of the attending nations and found no mention among them of the need to address meat and dairy consumption, despite overwhelming evidence to suggest that Western diets urgently need to change if we’re to keep the mercury from rising beyond that critical 2-degree mark.

As Compassion’s Chief Policy Advisor, Peter Stevenson, says:

“Research clearly shows that we cannot avoid a dangerous rise in temperatures unless there is a substantial decrease in global meat and dairy consumption."

A policy vacuum

So why isn’t the issue at the forefront of negotiations in Paris, where the very nature of “progress” must be challenged in order to save our precious planet?

Whether it’s a matter of astonishing oversight, out-and-out denial or criminal neglect, one thing’s certain – ignoring livestock’s huge contribution to global warming in Paris this month amounts to an act of stupidity on a cataclysmic scale, standing in the way of fast, decisive action on what is, undoubtedly, the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.

The policy vacuum alone is a bitter pill to swallow, but when you consider it in light of the massive financial support given by governments to prop up the production of “cheap” meat, eggs and dairy, it’s something of a double-whammy.

What now?

We urge global leaders to put livestock production and the overconsumption of animal proteins not just on their agendas, but at the very tops of their agendas – after all, reining in excessive meat consumption is one of the most effective ways of slashing GHGs.

As outlined in this BBC article, government pledges in this area could cover increasing public awareness of the logic in meat moderation, taking practical measures such as offering more vegetarian food options in public organisations, and rethinking the price of meat to reflect its true cost, therefore incentivising consumers to make the right choices at the checkout.

The further intensification of livestock production is certainly not a solution – this would merely serve to undermine food security and the natural resources upon which farming depends, create serious pollution issues and ensure the suffering of billions of animals. It would also, it must be said, perpetuate the throwaway food culture that made the overconsumption of meat possible in the first place.

Hope for the future

Whatever happens in the end at COP21, it’s important we all take the initiative that world leaders appear to be ignoring and carry on making good food choices and spreading the word about sustainable diets. As always, the greatest incentive for governments to act is pressure from the people.

He might be missing the point when it comes to his public climate commitments, but these words from Barack Obama nevertheless ring true:

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world."

That voice could be yours.


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