On any given morning at the COP27 climate conference, you can expect a parade of anti-meat protesters dressed as pigs and cows, holding banners decrying livestock’s carbon footprint and chanting slogans like “Let’s be vegan, let’s be free.”
Activist groups and corporate startups have descended on Egypt’s two-week climate summit to put pressure on the hundreds of global policymakers present about the world’s obsession with meat and its role in global warming.
Their demands range from reducing meat consumption to policies that appear far-fetched, such as switching to cell-based meat grown in steel vats, which could eliminate the need for feed crops, ranch land, and slaughterhouses.
Meat production produces 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions
According to a peer-reviewed study led by researchers at the University of Illinois and published last year, cows, sheep, pigs, and other livestock are responsible for approximately 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Researchers are concerned that the impact will be even greater because recent efforts to measure emissions at individual farms in the United States – for example, by flying a methane-detecting plane over them – revealed that they were emitting far more than previously estimated.
We appear to be completely off. According to Matthew Hayek, a researcher at New York University, “virtually every time these… measurements are conducted, they disagree with (official data).”
For the first time in the nearly three-decade history of the United Nations summit, negotiators from nearly 200 countries are holding discussions focused on the issue at COP27.
However, reducing meat and dairy output is not yet on the agenda of governments, many of which provide billions of dollars in subsidies to livestock farmers. Instead, they are advancing policies to reduce emissions by using feed additives that make animals less gassy and technology that sucks up the methane that is emitted by manure heaps.
Activists are skeptical.
According to Max Weiss, a campaigner with the Plant Based Treaty, a global activist group promoting a meat-free diet, this can never be the path to net zero.
We need to get away from animal agriculture.
Climate scientists are also skeptical that industry-favored solutions will be effective.
According to Andy Reisinger, a farm emissions specialist and vice-chair of the United Nations’ IPCC climate panel, feed additives may worsen emissions by encouraging intensive farming.
According to Reisinger, it would result in more intensive livestock production, which would necessitate larger areas of land to produce animal feed, putting pressure on forest land.
The combined emissions from 15 of the world’s largest meat and dairy companies exceeded those of Germany, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Changing Markets Foundation, a sustainability advocacy group.
Who put the fast food kiosks at COP27?
Anti-meat activists have been protesting food kiosks at the COP27 summit for selling burgers and chicken, which they say are inappropriate for a climate conference.
When you walk into the conference, the aroma of grilled animal meat fills your nose. Which, according to Weiss, is dystopian.
However, not everyone dislikes the smell of barbecue. As a result, several companies represented at the summit want to commercialize an emerging technology that uses microbial fermentation to grow real meat in steel vats.
Their goal is to provide steaks, chicken breasts, and pork without the negative consequences of traditional animal agriculture.
We believe people want to eat meat, said Josh Tetrick, CEO of GOOD Meat, who was serving his company’s cell-based chicken at a COP27 side event.
We’re just trying to find a more environmentally friendly way to give them what they want.
Tetrick’s company already sells small amounts of “cultivated chicken” to Singapore restaurants and is investing in production capacity in the United States in the hopes that regulators will approve its sale there.
While the taste and texture are nearly identical to chicken, the cost is approximately ten times higher. Tetrick stated, “We need to fix that.”
Helena Wright, Policy Director at the FAIRR Initiative, an investor network focused on sustainable agriculture, expressed optimism about the COP27 food focus.
The discussion has begun. And, she claims, the market is already shifting regardless of whether governments act.