Meat the elephant in the room at COP 21


Meat the elephant in the room at COP 21

30 November 2015
At the beginning of this year’s 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP 21), it is important to remind ourselves that the farming of animals for the production of meat and dairy products is a significant cause of global warming.  

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) approximately 14, 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from animal-based agriculture[1]. In addition to placing pressure on water, air, and soil resources, industrial animal farming is a leading cause of deforestation, as forests are converted to feed crop production. When all factors are taken into consideration, livestock farming contributes more to carbon dioxide emissions than the output of all forms of transport[2]. In short, climate change is clearly impacted in great deal by our demand for meat and dairy products.

Our meat consumption has already almost doubled globally in the past 50 years, and according to official estimations, both meat and milk consumption will continue to increase in the coming decades, driven by a growing global population and rising wealth. But what will the cost of this consumption be to our climate? And what are the other repercussions for animals and human health?

In addition to contributing to climate change, the increasingly industrial scale of livestock farming to produce animal products is already taking its toll on animal welfare and public health. Animals are increasingly kept at high stocking densities on the farm and in transit. Intensive, indoor livestock units, which are plagued by a host of animal welfare concerns, facilitate the transmission of diseases, so that high amounts of antibiotics are required to maintain production.  This widespread and inappropriate use of antibiotics, caused by utter neglect of animal welfare requirements, is leading to antimicrobial resistance in both animals and humans. In short, climate change and a looming health crisis are progressing hand in hand.

Unfortunately, higher animal welfare standards, which hold a key to ending this vicious circle, are systematically neglected on industrial farms and in the existing policy frameworks for farming. Instead of being respected as sentient beings that can provide high quality products, farmed animals are often treated simply as tools to maximize production and profit with little regard for the sustainability of such practices, nor ethical considerations.

The good news is that we, as consumers and citizens, have the power to change this unsustainable trend. By eating less and better animal products and by demanding political action to improve animal welfare and promote more sustainable diets, we can make a difference and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But will decision makers do their part?

In advance of the COP21 in Paris, Eurogroup for Animals calls on world leaders to start addressing the root causes of climate change in agriculture. Defeating climate change will require a paradigm shift that includes a move to more sustainable farming practices which respects animals and preserves the environment. The key is also to produce and consume less and better animal products and promote more plant-based alternatives.

Holistic measures are needed that fully consider the climate-related impacts of food production and consumption. We know that industrial animal farming contributes disproportionately to greenhouse gas emissions when compared to other products and farming systems. Higher animal welfare farming systems and more plant-based foods that deliver improved health and welfare for people and animals alike whilst better respecting our natural resources must be supported.

World leaders today must recognize that future generations will look back at this moment and wonder – really wonder: why did we ever insist on eating so much meat and dairy, when the poor consequences for the climate and our health are so clear.

Further reading:



Impossible Foods, Patrick Brown:

1.12.2015 RTCC (Responding to Climate Change) side event: Sustainable Agriculture, Land management, Food Security & Rural Development

2.12.2015 Farmers’ day

6.-7.12.2015 Sustainable forum:

9.12.2015 Meat: The big omission from the talks on emissions. (Experts and government officials discuss climate impacts of meat and dairy consumption, public awareness, potential policy and behavior-change solutions.)

[1] Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock : A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013.

[2] Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. FAO. 2006 : Additional statistics of relevance can be found here :