COP28 climate change summit must tackle the shocking amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by farming — Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery
3 min readDec 1, 2023

Up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions globally are caused by food and the way it is produced

Farming needs to change so that it absorbs greenhouse gases, rather than emitting them on a vast scale (Picture: William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Two years ago, world leaders gathered in Glasgow for crucial talks on tackling climate change. That meeting saw government pledges that narrowed the gap between a liveable future and catastrophe. Now all eyes are on Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where this year’s round of climate talks is just beginning. Hopes are pinned on governments addressing major issues standing in the way of keeping global warming within the ‘safe’ limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. One such issue missing from previous talks is food.

UN climate change conferences (or COPs) take place every year, yet the fact that the issue of food has hardly figured at previous gatherings has rendered them a cop-out. Their failure to address this elephant in the room has left the world on a perilous course. As things stand, our over-consumption of meat alone could trigger catastrophic climate change.

As much as a third of greenhouse gas emissions globally are caused by food and the way we produce it. The majority of this comes from agriculture and deforestation to make way for new farmland. The livestock sector produces more greenhouse gases than the direct emissions of the world’s planes, trains and cars combined.

The latest science from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 43 per cent by 2030. This is critical to limiting temperature rise to 1.5C by the end of this century. Failing to hit this target will unleash some of the worst impacts of climate change, including more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves and rainfall. Extinctions, crop failures, and widespread suffering are likely to result.

We are in a decisive decade for climate action. Doing right by future generations means not ignoring what we put on our plate. Early signs are that the elephant in the room of food will finally be called out in Dubai.

I was in Rome last summer during the record-breaking heatwave where I was encouraged to hear the UAE’s environment minister, Mariam Al Mheiri, announce that this year’s climate talks would see food and farming firmly on the agenda. “The COP28 presidency’s commitment to prioritising food systems demonstrates a dedication to address pressing global challenges,” she said.

Let’s hope her aspirations come true. Goodness knows, we need them to. We need food and farming to be part of the solution. To capture atmospheric carbon, rather than release it. To transition to food systems based not on cruelty, extraction and decline, but on putting back into nature’s bank account, working in harmony with Mother Nature. In short, farming regeneratively.

The planet can no longer afford food elitism. We cannot continue seeing sustainable, regeneratively produced food as something that comes at a premium, that only those with money can afford. Decent, climate-friendly food should be a basic right for everyone. We no longer have the luxury of asking: can we afford to change? The fact is we can’t afford not to. The world’s gaze now turns to Dubai to build on the legacy of Glasgow’s climate talks and make it so.

Philip Lymbery is chief executive of Compassion in World Farming, a former United Nations Food Systems Champion and an award-winning author. His latest book is Sixty Harvests Left: How to Reach a Nature-Friendly Future. Philip is on X/Twitter @philip_ciwf

Note: This article was first published in The Scotsman on Friday 1st December, 2023

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