Next week global leaders will descend on Bonn for the COP23 talks to discuss how to keep the world on track to achieve the 2015 Paris Agreement; namely, limiting global warming to below two degrees.

At the heart of these talks is each country’s plan to reduce its emissions, formally known as its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). The INDCs single out 79 different industries, yet from America to Australia not a single developed country includes a concrete plan to tackle livestock emissions.

Given that the livestock sector is responsible for approximately 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), more than the entire transport sector, it is essential that this sector does not become the elephant in the room in Bonn. The world needs a firm plan to reduce emissions from the livestock sector.

The missing link

New analysis from investor network FAIRR today highlights the ten developed countries with the largest-emitting agricultural sectors, including the USA, Australia and France. The agricultural sectors in these ten countries collectively emit greenhouse gases equivalent to consuming 1.6 billion barrels of oil each year (in context worldwide average demand is around 35 billion barrels per year). Agriculture in these ten countries emits over 870,000 gigagrams of greenhouse gases per year, and according to the FAO, livestock accounts for approximately 62% of these emissions.

The Paris Agreement places a particular duty on developed nations to act, given that they are responsible for the vast majority of industrial emissions to date. These countries have also driven an unsustainable demand for animal proteins. So, it is remarkable that not a single developed world country’s INDC has a specific plan to tackle livestock emissions. It is an oversight that puts the Paris Agreement itself at risk.

Getting cows on the agenda

It’s been two years since Paris fired the starting gun on the low carbon transition and policy-makers as well as investors have thus far tended to focus on high-emitting sectors like energy, transport and extractives.

The time has come for investors to focus on the livestock sector where some of the most significant climate risks and opportunities exist. The fast-paced growth of the alternative protein sector and other food innovations, for example, is an appetising prospect for many investors. Plant-based food sales grew by over 8% this year, to top $3 billion in sales. Meanwhile, plant-based milk sales continue to grow at 3%, compared to cow’s milk which declined by 5% in the last year.

Many delegates at COP23 next week will be familiar with low carbon automotive innovations, from Tesla to telematics, yet we still largely rely on cows and pigs as the outdated technology to supply the world’s protein demand. If we are serious about halting irreversible climate change and safeguarding both financial value and the planet, the negotiations must put cows alongside cars on the climate agenda.


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