Agriculture in spotlight ahead of COP23 climate change talks

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Livestock is seen as a leading GHG emitter ©DigitalZombie/iStock
Livestock is seen as a leading GHG emitter ©DigitalZombie/iStock
Agricultural emissions have been flagged as a key issue ahead of the United Nations’ COP23 climate change talks, which will kick off in Bonn next week with the aim of developing a roadmap for implementing the Paris Agreement.

Agriculture accounts for around 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and the sector has been an agenda item within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) since 2011.

However, little headway has been made to agree on a framework that would reduce the emissions generated during food production. Key rifts between developed and developing countries have come to dominate talks on agriculture while consensus on how mitigation is treated within these negotiations is yet to be achieved.

In an effort to break the deadlock, SBSTA organised workshops and meetings, as well as collecting stakeholder views on how to tackle agricultural emissions, in Marrakech at COP22. These efforts produced scant results and a decision on next steps was postponed until this year’s Bonn talks.

In a preparatory meeting for COP23, held in May, progress was again slow with discussions only resulting in an agreement to continue negotiations at the upcoming Bonn meeting.

Currently, no developed country has a detailed plan in their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) documents to tackle livestock emissions while the meat processing and distribution sector – which is responsible for close to 1% of GHG emissions – is not called out in any country’s plan to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

Pressure mounting for action

Calls for action on the question of agricultural emissions have gained steam ahead of COP23.

Investor network FAIRR – which collectively manages US$4trn in assets - yesterday (1 November) urged leaders of developed OECD countries to prioritise emission reductions in their livestock sectors as a “crucial”​ issue in the UN talks.

FAIRR highlighted that the ten developed countries with the largest agricultural emissions collectively emit greenhouse gases equivalent to consuming 1.6bn ​barrels of oil annually. FAIRR argues that these countries have a "unique responsibility​" to act on emissions from their livestock sector.

Developed world country

Total agriculture (gigagrams) 

USA

351,475

Australia

141,847

France

72,264

Canada

61,783

Germany

60,636

UK

45,014

New Zealand

38,654

Spain

36,425

Poland

34,158

Italy

30,073

“It’s two years since Paris rang the starting bell on the low carbon transition and investors have tended to focus on high-emitting sectors like energy, transport and extractives. Investors should not overlook the livestock sector where some of the biggest climate risks and opportunities exist. It’s the elephant in the room in Bonn – especially for developed countries who still drive an unsustainable level of demand for animal protein,”​ Jeremy Coller, founder of the FAIRR Initiative and CIO of Coller Capital, argued. 

“Too many delegates at COP23 will be fluent in low carbon automotive innovations from Tesla to telematics, yet still rely on cows and pigs as the outdated technology to supply the world’s protein demand. The next stage of the Paris talks must put cows alongside cars.”

Meanwhile, international food advocacy organisation ProVeg, is calling for food - “particularly animal agriculture”​ – to be given priority in the global climate protection agenda.

“Policymakers must look beyond energy and transport sectors for climate savings, and open debate about the impact of global livestock production on our planet,”​ the advocacy group urged.

ProVeg has launched a petition urging the German government, as host nation, to introduce and address the issue in the negotiations as well as taking it into account when formulating the German climate protection plan. The petition has already secured in excess of 41,000 signatures.

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