Photo from above of the cattle station, where cows are going out of a gate

Governments fail to address the cow in the room at COP26 – now, it’s up to us.

Our current food system is not only responsible for the suffering of millions of farmed animals, but it is also a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Concerningly, this was not properly addressed at COP26.
Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated 17 December 2021

While Australia’s government may be slow to take the necessary action to protect Australians, our wildlife, and our environment, we have the power to make changes, and we can start now.

 

The goal of COP26 was to put forward the action plan to reduce emissions

In 2015, leaders from around the globe gathered at COP21 in Paris, and agreed to take action to slow human-caused climate change. Through the reduction of emissions, the agreement aimed for a global temperature increase of just 1.5 degrees.

While this temperature change may not sound significant, experts predict an increase of even just a few degrees above this is likely to cause rising sea levels, the irreversible loss of animal species, and more severe droughts. The overarching goal of the recent COP26 meeting was to provide a roadmap to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, with each country presenting its action plan.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A cute koala eating eucalyptus tree leaves
Scientists predict global warming of even just a few degrees will likely cause more severe droughts and the irreversible loss of species.

Animal agribusiness was largely ignored at COP26, despite playing a major role in human-caused climate change

A significant portion of human-made greenhouse gases comes from the food we are eating, with some estimates sitting at over one quarter. Despite this, COP26 discussions and pledges failed to properly address the food sector, or its main emitter – animal agriculture.

According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming is being fuelled by our high consumption of meat and dairy. To limit climate change, we must therefore not only look at the energy we use to power our cars and our homes, but also the food we consume to fuel our bodies.

And this is not ‘new’ news. For years, environmental and health experts, and luminaries such as Sir David Attenborough and Dame Jane Goodall have been stressing the need for humanity to embrace new food choices. An in-depth report from Oxford University calls out avoiding meat and dairy as the ‘single biggest’ way to reduce our impact on Earth. The science is abundant, but the message doesn’t seem to be moving our global leaders into action.

Australia’s government has failed to commit to act to effectively protect Australians, our wildlife, and our shared environment

While more than 80 governments at COP26 pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, Australia’s government did not commit. And although Australia’s government did sign the pledge to address deforestation, the assistant forestry minister added that Australia was already living up to the aspirations of the declaration. In other words, the government believes we do not need to take further action to halt or reverse land clearing in Australia.

Land clearing for animal farming is a key driver of habitat loss in Australia. As a result, animal extinction is a devastating problem, both across the globe and in our very own backyard — with precious native animals like the koala at risk.

Shockingly, 94% of earth’s mammal biomass (excluding humans) is ‘livestock’ – animals bred to be killed for food. With farmed animals currently outweighing wild mammals by 15 to 1, it would be near impossible to help our wildlife without altering our food system.

The COP26 call to protect nature does not seem to be getting the urgent attention it deserves. By refusing to commit to emissions reductions and refusing to protect the country’s native habitats, our government is jeopardising Australia’s future.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A kangaroo looking towards camera in the area that was ravaged by bushfires in Australia
Drought and habitat loss are serious threats to our wildlife — to protect our country’s unique animals, we need to address climate change and land clearing which is largely carried out for cattle farming. Reducing the demand for beef and dairy will not only help our wildlife, but also reduce the suffering of cows bred into our farming system.

Our government is also falling behind on farmed animal welfare

Climate change inaction is yet another example of the Australian government failing to keep up with the progress of other OECD countries. Looking at Australia’s treatment of farmed animals, we have major steps to take to catch up to New Zealand, Europe, and the UK.

Earlier this year, New Zealand announced a ban on live export by sea, and a ban is looking promising in Europe and the UK. The EU is also phasing out cages for farmed animals. Factory farming and live export cause millions of Australia’s animals to suffer each year – and our government continues to permit the cruelty despite the views of caring Australians.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

herd of sheep standing in overcrowded condition looking up towards camera
The Australian government continues to allow cruel ad outdated farming practices and live export to continue, while other countries are taking action based on community expectations and welfare science.
Image credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Putting planet-friendly food on our forks

With our food choices having such a big impact on our planet, our mealtimes offer opportunities to take positive action every single day.

Opting for protein sources like beans, tofu, or nuts is the most climate-friendly way to eat – even more so than choosing the ‘lowest impact’ animal meat available.

For this reason, the menu offered at COP26 was heavily criticised for including animal meat and dairy. While disappointing, this brought much-needed attention to the importance of our food choices. A statement on the menu read, “According to the WWF, we need to get (the carbon footprint of food) down below 0.5 kg CO2e [per meal] to reach the goals defined in the Paris Agreement”, and each item included a climate label. The dish of ‘haggis, neeps and tatties’ had a carbon footprint of 3.4kg C02e – significantly higher than the WWF recommendation, and the vegetarian ‘haggis’ alternative at 0.6kg C02e.

Thankfully, eating plant-based has never been simpler or tastier. And innovative companies are making plant-rich options even more accessible. There are animal-friendly alternatives for burgers, roasts, milk, cheese platters and more already on offer at most supermarkets. Fast-food chains are also getting on board, with plant-based items popping up on the menus of Hungry Jacks, Grill’d and Nandos, just to name a few.

In the very near future, it is also expected that cruelty-free meat and dairy cultured in a laboratory will not only be commercially viable, but completely ‘normal’ too. These developments are expected to have an enormous and positive impact, taking pressure off the environment, and reducing the number of animals bred only to be killed for food.

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A mother cow with her calf
The most climate-friendly way to eat also happens to be the kindest to animals.

We don’t have to wait for our government to implement changes – we can lead the way

An ever-increasing number of Aussies are already taking charge – by filling their plates with more plants. While calling on our decision-makers to properly address all major contributors to rising temperatures, we can also shift consumer demand to more planet-friendly foods.

Fortunately, a plant-rich food system that is less resource-intensive has several benefits beyond helping to slow climate change. It can be positive for people, save our native animals, and spare billions of farmed animals from suffering in factory farms and slaughterhouses. By addressing climate change through the food we choose, we can put our shared values of care, empathy, and protection of the vulnerable — whether our own species, our fellow species, or the environment in which we live — at the centre of a new, sustainable way of life.

After some inspiration to get started? You’ll find all the information you need, plus a selection of delicious recipes, in our FREE Veg Starter Kit. Order your copy here. Or if you’re ready to get cooking right away, then you might like to browse our collection of 100+ delicious plant-based recipes at VegKit.com.

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A spread of vibrant plant-based dishes. People surround the table, enjoying the feast.
1 in 3 Australians are already choosing to eat plant-rich food – for their health, the animals, and the planet.

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