COP28: Intensive livestock farming and the climate crisis, what is the relationship?

 COP28: Intensive livestock farming and the climate crisis, what is the relationship?

Have you ever wondered which sectors are the most energy-consuming and impactful for planet Earth? If factory animal farming and agribusiness are among your ideas, you are already on the right track. In terms of the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere and other ways of causing environmental degradation, these activities are rightfully on the list.

By Federica Baldo

As it should be, in the COP28 pavilions some space is also dedicated to discussions around a big topic: intensive animal farming and agriculture. 

In this article I’m presenting a particular perspective on this issue, which concerns the repercussions in terms of climate disasters in the Global South that emissions from this type of activity have. 

So, how do emissions from intensive livestock production exacerbate environmental imbalances and climate disasters in Third World countries? At an event held at COP28 on the 2nd of December entitled ‘Unveiling industrial farming’s hidden climate destruction in the global south’ some figures were given. An estimated USD 8 billion of damage caused in Asia, Africa and South America by the intensive farming system adopted in the global north was mentioned.

Climate injustice and transnationality of the crisis 

These considerations are part of the broader and well-known concept of climate injustice. This paradox describes how the nations of the Global South, despite being the ones who contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions, are the ones who suffer the most from the effects of climate change caused by these. These are the countries most severely and intensely impacted but at the same time the least responsible and the worst equipped to deal with them, both in terms of available economic resources and in terms of infrastructure and technology. Eventually being condemned to a troubled and slow recovery. As if that wasn’t enough, they are aslo the countries that have the lowest voice at the international negotiating tables. 

The matter in question is not only tied to the aforementioned concept of climate injustice, but also to that of the transnationality of the climate crisis, which refers to the global scale on which this problem extends, in fact bypassing the borders of nations and having no limits. Having said this, it is easier to understand how climate-damaging practices undertaken in certain areas of the globe end up having repercussions on other areas. 

The relationship between intensive livestock farming and the climate crisis 

Let’s cut to the chase, agriculture and food production are associated with all three of the big greenhouse gases we know: CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, producing, according to the conference, 20-30% of annual global emissions. But it is not just a matter of emissions, animal food production also contributes to environmental degradation through other practices: deforestation (necessary to make room for livestock foraging), exploitation of natural resources (first and foremost water), and the contamination of these through the release of waste substances. 

Within the COP more space needs to be devoted to this underlying linkage. Beyond mechanisms such as the Loss and Damage Fund (on whose operationalisation the leaders already agreed on Thursday 30th of November) and which relies on getting help from the rest of the international community, Africa, for example, should be enabled to use the resources it inherently has to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, these capacities and tools often leave the continent and move to other countries. 

Africa

The impact that agriculture and intensive livestock farming taking place in the Global North has on independent farmers in Africa is considerable. Unlike in the world’s most industrialised countries, that focus their production methods on maximising profits and ensuring mass consumption, here more than 80 per cent of agricultural and animal products are produced using sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. And what is even more unfair is the fact that droughts, floods, extreme weather events, and animal and plant diseases that are becoming more frequent in the South as a consequence of activities in the North are endangering food security in these areas, meaning guaranteed access to water and food.

Reflections on possible future scenarios

Rather than exporting the model of the Global North to the South, it is appropriate to do the exact opposite, also calling upon the indigenous knowledge and the traditional practices that preserve the harmony of the whole. What is certain is that the transition from the current intensive production model to a slower, more extensive one is only possible if the demand for animal products is cut considerably. To do this, humanity would have to redirect its diet towards a greater consumption of plant-based food.

Unfortunately, the current trend is far from this scenario; the intensive production model is expanding in response to increasing urbanisation, growing world population and increasing demand for meat. Let us remember, however, that all this has repercussions on public health, loss of biodiversity, food security and, not least, animal suffering

It is time for global leaders to refocus their support on sustainable production systems through instruments that can be subsidies or restrictions on the old model.

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