World leaders shy away from tackling food, farming emissions at COP26

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Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a businesshala News initiative called Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.


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When Nick Morrow decided to become a vegetarian eight years ago, he wasn’t thinking about climate change.

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Instead, he was inspired by the health benefits after a severe trauma to his father – and as an animal lover, he was also concerned with how animals were treated.

Since opening a Café Picnic in Glasgow, one of the city’s most popular vegetarian restaurants, he has seen how a plant-based diet has become mainstream, with more options on store shelves and better labeling on menus and packaging. .

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While the environment was off his mind when he decided to give up meat and dairy, Morrow said it’s often the motivation why people switch diets these days.

And with Glasgow hosting the COP26 climate conference this month, Morrow said he can only nod his head as world leaders discuss a range of issues related to global warming – but generally speaking of food production or agriculture. avoids.

“Most people who are vegetarians are very conscious of the fact that animal agriculture is the elephant in the room with respect to CO2 emissions,” Morrow said.

Or as some plant-based advocates describe it – “the cow in the room.”

They say changing our diet could help solve climate change.

“The scale and speed needed to prevent and reverse climate damage from livestock calls for world leaders to take decisive action,” said Sean McEnany with Humane Society International.

“COP26 is designed as a race to zero. But in its refusal to set ambitious goals and strategies to meaningfully reduce the impacts of animal agriculture, it is like a gentle Sunday walk,” They said.

The Conference of the Parties (COP) meets every year and is the global decision-making body that was established in the 1990s to implement. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and later climate agreements.

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: [email protected] Your input helps inform our coverage.

Despite plant- or animal-based agriculture, the marginalization of the topic at COP26 reflects how governments around the world are often hesitant to address the region’s climate impacts.

In Canada, farmers are often spared part of the carbon tax after governments decide to provide exemptions on things like agricultural fuels and natural gas to heat greenhouses.

When the federal government also raised its methane-reduction target last month Declaring its support for the Global Methane Pledge, the focus was on emissions from the oilpatch.

For the agriculture industry, there are no regulations or federal targets, even though the sector accounts for 29 percent of Canada’s total. methane emissions

Methane is a natural byproduct of cattle digestion, which means it is released into the atmosphere every time a cow burps or farts. Experts say tackling methane emissions from agriculture is more complicated than from oil and natural gas production.

Agriculture represents about 10 percent of Canada’s total emissions, a figure that has remained relatively flat over the past few decades. During that time, the source of those emissions has fluctuated due to trends within the industry; Major livestock populations peaked in 2005 before declining sharply by 2011, while fertilizer use has increased by 71 percent since 2005.

Overall, food production accounts for approx. A third of global emissions according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. At COP26, there are specific days focused on topics such as energy, finance, transportation, youth and cities; Agriculture was mixed with land and ocean management under the theme of nature.

“I’m not sure…,” said Stuart Oke, a vegetable and flower farmer from Ontario who is based in Glasgow and represents the National Farmers Union at COP26.

After two significant floods in the Ottawa region over the past five years, OK said he is concerned about what farming will be like in 20 or 30 years, as climate change causes more severe and frequent natural disasters.

OK’s message is that farmers want to be part of the solution and make changes to reduce emissions, such as more efficient use of fertilizers. He said more support for research and technology would help.

Livestock are at the heart of the food system, he said, as his farm also uses animal manure. But he acknowledges that every part of the industry needs to be sustainable.

“We need to take a closer look at our practices, and ask ourselves, like everyone else should be, ‘What can we do to be part of the solution here? How can you help make the system a lot more resilient than it is now?” he said.

Watch , Why this Ontario farmer traveled to Scotland for COP26:

Some agricultural practices, such as zero tillage and maintenance of grasslands, can act as a carbon sink and absorb some of the emissions.

But these practices are estimated to eliminate nearly four million tons of CO2 in 2019, including the use of on-farm fuels, compared to more than 70 million tons generated by the agricultural industry in 2019. Producing ammonia for use in fertilizers raises that level of emissions by an additional two million tons, according to federal data,

Ottawa also committed $200 million for a fund It aims to reduce emissions from agriculture and help farmers adapt to climate change.

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