The annual UN Climate Change Convention Conference of the Parties, or ‘COP’, provides an opportunity for our world leaders to unite annually and agree on actions to address the climate crisis. COP28 took place from 30 November to 11 December 2023 in Dubai.
Industrial animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Livestock produces more direct greenhouse gas emissions than the direct emissions of all the world’s planes, trains and cars put together.* As well as being the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet and harmful to human health, industrial farming is damaging our climate and planet.
We sent a delegation to COP28 to advocate for sustainable and equitable animal agriculture, food systems transformation, including tackling the overconsumption of animal sourced foods in high consuming populations.
For the second year running, we partnered with other NGOs and organisations – including ProVeg International and World Animal Protection – to organise the Food4Climate Pavilion which focused on inclusive, science-based solutions to transform food systems. Together with our Pavilion partners, we highlighted the need for a long-term, holistic approach to building healthy, climate-friendly and equitable food systems which promote healthy and sustainable diets.
Sharing our voice on the global stage
During the conference we hosted and took part in a number of events.
On 2 December our Global Head of International Affairs, Eirini Pitsilidi, spoke at a side event organised by the World Health Organization called A Call to action for the health ministerial: We need healthy diets for healthy people and planet. In closing remarks to the discussion, Eirini reflected that the diets many of us currently enjoy and others aspire to are neither healthy nor sustainable and that the global narrative needs to shift from food security to nutrition security. With the Committee on World Food Security acknowledging the role animal welfare plays in food security and human health, and the UN Environment Assembly recognising its connection to climate change and sustainable development, she concluded that “animal welfare is not just a ‘nice to have’ but a critical and essential element of the transformation we need.”
On 4 December, our Global Director of Campaigns and Advocacy Policy, Debbie Tripley spoke at an official UNFCCC event called Food systems transformation: elevating healthy diets & protein diversification as climate, where she raised the alarm on the impending tipping point for our planet if we don’t address the way we produce our food.
On 10 December, the inaugural Food, Agriculture and Water Day, our team hosted an insightful side event called Tackling the Intractable: The Political Economy of a Livestock Transition in Line with Climate Goals. This event, with speakers including our Global Head of Research, Sarah Ison, as well as experts from world renowned think-tank, Chatham House, explored the political realities of aligning livestock production and consumption with climate goals.
Recognition of links between human, animal and planetary health
Positively, there were two significant Declarations announced at COP28. Firstly, on 1 December, the COP Presidency announced the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. Signed by more than 150 nations, this Declaration recognised the urgent need for action on agriculture and food systems to address the climate crisis.
Importantly, this Declaration acknowledged the links between our food systems, human and animal health, and climate impacts and we look forward to supporting governments in transitioning their food systems for a healthier, more sustainable, and higher welfare future.
Two days later, on the first ever Health Day at a COP, the COP28 Presidency announced the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health. Signed by over 140 countries, this Declaration aimed to place health at the heart of climate action and accelerate the development of climate-resilient, sustainable and equitable health systems. We welcomed this recognition that human, animal and climate health are all intrinsically linked.
Animal welfare should be prioritised
Later during the conference, we welcomed a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Frontiers report released on 8 December called What’s Cooking? which explored alternatives to an overreliance on animal-sourced foods. Positively, this progressive report recognised that animal welfare should be a key priority in tackling the environment, climate and biodiversity crises, as well as human health.
On the same day, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN released a report mapping pathways towards lower livestock emissions, acknowledging that measures to address these cannot come at the expense of animal welfare or increase the number of animals in intensive systems. We are concerned, however, that some of the measures proposed may not possible without jeopardising animal welfare and can provide only a short-term approach to urgently tackling emissions.
Food, Agriculture & Water Day
On Food Day, the FAO also released the first in a series of three Roadmap reports to set out a path to address global food security, without breaching the global warming temperature target of 1.5°C. While this report set out tangible actions to address hunger and ensure healthier diets, we are concerned that it also recommended practices that could increase the numbers of animals in intensive systems.
Later on Food Day, we were proud to announce that we had joined a broad coalition of more than 200 non-governmental stakeholders in a Call to Action for Transforming Food Systems for People, Nature and Climate. The declaration reflects the increasingly universal recognition that our food systems can help solve – not just exacerbate – climate change.
Policy actions needed
While overall, significant strides were made at COP28 in recognising the role of food systems in climate action, there is a pressing need to transform this recognition into clear policy actions which will ensure a sustainable and resilient future for animals, people and our planet.
Read more about the urgent need for a global food transformation.