COP17: Sustainability Meeting Must Address Animal Agriculture, Says Humane Society

Durban in South Africa is the stage where the United Nations’ climate change conference, also known as COP17, is taking place (until December 9th). Sustainability pundits are not very optimistic that the outcome of the event will be a legally binding treaty to reduce emissions worldwide. Heavyweight nations such as Japan and the U.S. are reluctant to sign any agreements if developing nations, who believe developed countries should pay a higher share of the bill, do not take equal responsibility.

Parallel to the negotiations, representatives from NGOs try to make their voices heard amid the cacophony of COP17 talks. One of them is the Humane Society International, which is urging delegates to bring animal agriculture into the forum.

“Given animal agriculture’s significant contributions to the climate crisis, Humane Society International believes that conference outcomes must also include policies to reduce the animal agriculture sector’s greenhouse gas emissions”, the organization said.

The numbers are mind-boggling. 67 million land animals are raised for food each year. A 2006 FAO report stated that animal agriculture already accounts for nearly one fifth of all human-induced GHG emissions globally while a 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that animal agriculture’s emissions could grow 39 percent by 2050. 70% of the deforestation in the Amazon region is driven by the expansion of the livestock sector.

According to Geoff Evans, head of HSI’s delegation, the organization will specifically be working to achieve a work program on agriculture within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “This will allow environmental, animal protection, rural development, and other social justice groups to have a greater voice in climate and agricultural policy at local, national and international levels,” he explained.

HSI recently joined the U.S. Climate Action Network, the largest American network of organizations focused on climate change, in addition to Climate Action Network International, a worldwide network of more than 700 non-governmental organizations from 90-plus countries.

I caught up with Mr. Evans via email today, to get more details about HSI’s efforts to get the issue into the COP17 agenda.

JM: What are the real chances that a work program on animal agriculture could be included in the UNFCCC, alongside more emphasis on a vegan diet?
GE: We are heavily promoting addressing animal agriculture emissions and animal welfare within the context of the UNFCCC. And we will address these within the work program on agriculture. What we’ve seen is a spread of industrialized animal agriculture worldwide, to the point that over half of all pork and about two-thirds of eggs and poultry meat are produced in these systems that induce unimaginable animal suffering. We seek to redirect policy and funding away from these types of systems and towards a positive alternative. Crafted properly, a SBSTA work program on agriculture is one piece of the puzzle in redirecting agriculture and agricultural expansion to a more food secure, ecologically sound, and humane future. Various groups have raised the issue of consumption, specifically food consumption choices, and HSI’s farm animal welfare recommendations certainly highlight the need for governments to promote more plant-based eating. However, the conversation has not yet found an official home within the UNFCCC framework.

JM: How open are delegates to discuss the topic?
GE: So far, the small number of delegates with whom we have directly broached the issue have been receptive. We continue to build relationships with a growing number of delegates and policy makers, so that we may voice our concerns and hopes to them in the coming days and months. We have also been doing serious legwork to bolster the discussion in the NGO community and have received an overwhelmingly positive response.

JM: COP17 started on Monday – any new developments to report?
GE: Although the particular contact group for this topic, under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA), hasn’t yet met, HSI has been working with prominent international NGO’s to coordinate lobbying efforts and our approach. HSI also led the drafting of a sign-on letter calling for the creation of a properly formed SBSTA work program. We’ve distributed this at the conference, including to all country delegations. Additionally, we’ve developed specific recommendations for animal welfare considerations, which we’ve also been distributing, amongst our white papers and other materials, at the conference.

Image credit: HSI