The editorial’s perspective on the environmental shift in farming: concerns about political obstacles.
One of the inconvenient realities of our time is that the production of food on a global scale is closely connected to the climate crisis. Severe weather events such as droughts and floods pose a threat to agricultural systems worldwide. Additionally, the emissions from animal farming contribute significantly to the issue of global warming. It is well-known that the traditional Western diet, which heavily relies on meat and dairy, is damaging the environment. In order to meet climate goals and protect vulnerable food systems, changes must be made to eating patterns in wealthy nations and a decrease in livestock numbers is necessary.
In the upcoming UN climate negotiations, a key message will be emphasized: the need to change our consumption and production habits in order to limit temperature increases to 1.5C. At the Cop28 in Dubai, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization will highlight the importance of transforming food systems. This focus is long overdue and has been overlooked in past summits for various reasons.
Although the scientific evidence is clear and direct, the politics surrounding agriculture is far from simple. This industry is complex as it involves economic concerns, cultural heritage, national pride, and emotional connections to the land. This was evident when Rishi Sunak, in his search for green policies to oppose this fall, fabricated a proposed “meat tax” to further his agenda. It was a transparent and unethical attempt to create divisions on the issue of achieving net zero emissions before the upcoming election. However, in western countries, there are politicians with stronger moral principles who are facing challenges in demonstrating leadership on such a delicate and contentious topic.
Joe Biden has implemented new regulations in the United States aimed at decreasing methane emissions from fossil fuel companies. However, these requirements do not apply to the large beef industry in America. Last year, the Dutch Farmer-Citizen Movement caused a stir in Europe when it achieved victory in regional elections. The movement was formed in opposition to government plans to reduce livestock numbers by 33%. In Ireland, where farming accounts for almost 40% of all emissions, there have been discussions about implementing similar drastic measures behind closed doors in government, but they have not been formally adopted as policy. In comparison to industries like transportation and construction, the agricultural sector is noticeably lacking in efforts towards a greener transition.
We must stop the trend. Recently, the climate minister of Denmark suggested that farmers in the EU should pay for their greenhouse gas emissions through a trading program. Starting in 2025, New Zealand plans to charge for emissions from livestock farming, making it the only country to do so. While these are steps in the right direction, they must be accompanied by subsidies, compensation, and incentives for farmers to diversify. Additionally, convincing people in western countries to consume less meat will require innovative and effective leadership. A “meat tax” proposal could be exploited by the populist right, but if the revenue is used to benefit animal welfare and support those in need affected by climate change, the political landscape could change.
Transforming our eating habits is a significant cultural hurdle that carries significant economic consequences. It cannot be achieved through covert methods or authoritative decrees, or with minimal resources. The responsibility to ensure the success of sustainable agriculture in the years ahead cannot be avoided. Governments must adhere to the direction set by Cop28.