As the COP26 global climate change conference closes, Global North leaders and animal farmers are still refusing to face up to ‘the cow in the room’. Thomas Vilsack, USA Secretary of Agriculture clings to the lie that his country can safely keep farming and eating animals at current rates. The UK Guardian newspaper reports that all four of the presidents of the UK farming unions said at COP26, they believe the same lie of the UK.
The COP26 conference has not done enough to ensure a just transition to sustainable agriculture. Instead, Farming was largely tucked away in ‘COP26 Nature and Land Use Day’ on Saturday 6 November 2021 (also the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice). Delegates talked about protecting woodlands, revisiting broken promises from the 2014 New York Declaration for Forests. However, it was mostly left to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like us, in the conference ‘Fringe’, to specifically tackle our animal farming. Our Global North leaders are still failing to take responsibility for the climate devastation which we are causing.
We know that, globally, our Agriculture, Forestry and other Land Use (AFOLU) cause almost a quarter of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – around 13% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 44% of methane (CH4), and 81% of nitrous oxide (N2O). These greenhouse gases mainly result when we farm animals, in how we manage the soil and soil nutrients, and when we remove trees (often for farmed animal feed and pasture).
Yet, it appears that the ‘AIM for Climate / AIM4C’ Declaration was one of few serious attempts by Global North leaders at COP26 to bring about sustainable agriculture. The Guardian reports widespread criticism that AIM4C misleadingly presents climate destructive farming as ‘part of the solution’. There was also a Global Action Agenda on Innovation in Agriculture launched to invest in climate-resilient farming food systems. However, this has only received minority support. The COP26 Policy Action Agenda For Transition To Sustainable Food And Agriculture includes important recommendations, such as incorporating agriculture and food systems into the Paris Agreement on climate change for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of GHGs. But Global North leaders have not committed to the swift action on plant-based food systems needed to keep global temperature rises below 1.5° C.
The UN have shown that nearly all the annual USA$540 billion of existing global farming subsidies add to the climate crisis and other harms to nature. The UN say, redirecting subsidies to sustainable farming could be a “game-changer“. Therefore, we have to lean on our Governments to move funding away from the huge, hugely destructive Global North animal farming industry, towards plant-based agriculture.
Small family farms currently produce around a third of the world’s food. Yet, many small farmers and their communities are struggling, both with climate change impacts and also, with hunger. So-called ‘True Cost Accounting’ (TCA) of our food system – honestly and transparently including all of the harms and benefits both to us and to non-human animals – is one possible way forward.
Our struggle to avoid climate catastrophe must go on. Everyone committed to a sustainable and just future needs to urgently to find new ways of working together. We need a Great Food Transformation. We in the Global North must enact Food Sustainability laws to curb our farming of animals. We must find ways to ensure fair, healthy, sustainable food for all, if we are to achieve climate justice.
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.