Grammenos Mastrojeni, an Italian expert and writer on the environment, and Philip Lymbery, Compassion in World Farming's CEO, put together their thoughts on the current climate summit in Paris, the forgotten sectors and the power of the individual.
The current climate summit in Paris, COP21, is a crucial moment for us all. International leaders are meeting as we speak, to discuss thoughts, ideas, and ultimately, legislation, regarding the world's Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
We hope for positive agreements which, in turn, lead States to adopt measures and legislation that make it easier for individuals to do the right thing.
However, there is a huge element of doubt. Why? Voluntary CO2 emission cuts announced so far by States are not enough to stay on target and avoid trespassing the 2°C threshold: 12.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent are missing to bridge the distance. Can the energy sector alone carry this burden? All carbon emitting sectors have to join the fight and, among them, better land management could contribute one fourth of the gap, in a cost effective way and with extremely consistent co-benefits. Land use, in turn, is a great part of one big forgotten subject. Our diets.
Animal agriculture and the genuine need for a reduction in meat and dairy in richer countries is not highlighted in the conversation. All sectors, it seems, recognize that they must reduce their GHG emissions. But we do not think enough about the livestock sector and the impact of our diets. Their emissions are set to soar. So much so that studies warn that agriculture's emissions will on their own push us almost up to the 2°C threshold by 2050.
In this context, Kofi Annan, the 7th Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: "The global livestock industry is indeed a major threat to the climate as it represents 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations."
So, we have to rethink livestock production. Fuelled by factory farming, it is already responsible for more GHG emissions than all the world's planes, trains and cars put together.
With business as usual projections, agriculture alone could take the world to the cusp of what in climate change circles they describe as the 2°C 'maximum safe limit'. Factory farming is cruel, inefficient and damaging to the very resources we need for future food production. People may ask, 'but what can I do?' We can each make a difference, we can save the planet. Eating less meat and dairy products, as many other kinds of day to day attentions, are simple solutions. But incredibly effective.
We are close to trespassing a critical threshold, a tipping point: if we go beyond it, we will definitely trigger some catastrophic scenarios. If we let this happen, we - our own generation and our children - could soon deal with mass extinctions, huge migrations, and conflicts for vanishing resources.
Individuals - voters or politicians, citizens or administrators, employees or CEOs - are the ones who have to change habits and our perspectives: the ecosystem does not directly react to treaties and bills.
A paradigm of how it all works and a hint of the marvelous coherence of nature emerges in one of the most basic human needs: food. Those nutritional habits that are most harmful for our individual health are also the ones that more severely impact the environment and require a continuous exercise of cruelty on life: excess meat consumption in the rich world, processing, packaging and so on are making agriculture unsustainable while they harm our health too.
If we eat better and more humane foods, we create sustainability, but we also defuse the ticking bomb of injustice: a healthier diet in the rich countries, based on fresh, local, and mainly vegetal products, can free huge resources to feed the poorest.
Research has shown that reducing our meat consumption, in particular, processed meat consumption, will cut down on serious illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and obesity.
We've said that experts agree that in order to prevent global warming levels becoming critical, we have to keep temperature increases to below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. But as demand for livestock products continues to surge, particularly in developing countries, the emissions from food are poised to increase dramatically.
So far, negotiations are not focusing on the fact that livestock farming is a major contributor to greenhouse gases; despite an abundance of scientific evidence proving its irreversible damage.
It is unlikely that temperature rises can be kept below the 2°C target without a reduction in global meat and dairy demand. Therefore, instead of eating lots of 'cheap' meat from factory farmed animals reared in appalling conditions, we should be eating less, better quality meat and milk products. This change in diet would not only have environmental and health benefits, but would enable farmers to move toward more extensive, humane and sustainable farming methods, such as free range and organic. These methods also pave the way to higher income and long term sustainability for farmers
Even the most successful international agreement and the best legislation cannot replace the main element of the equation: that people are the only ones who can make the ultimate difference.
You are powerful and you can make the difference, no matter how insignificant you feel. And only you can make it: no law, no treaty, no policy can replace your choice to save our future.
We may feel alone, insignificant and powerless to act. But each individual can do a lot in his own choices about his home, transportation, energy and, yes, about his diet. Each time we choose a little less meat, making sure it comes from good pasture, free-range or organic farms, we're doing our bit for ourselves, and much more for our children's future.