Find out more about GHG emissions goals for the food sector and the urgency of investor action on this issue by reading our Q&A below.
As outlined in the Paris Agreement in 2015, signatories are expected to publish an NDC every five years, disclosing their plans to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Parties were requested to submit the last round of NDCs (new NDCs or updated NDCs) by 2020 and every five years thereafter (e.g. by 2020, 2025, 2030), regardless of their respective implementation time frames.
These are voluntary pledges and don’t have to conform to any particular guidelines or framework – which of course come with limitations. A recent report produced by the United Nations Environment Programme indicated that if all countries met their current NDC targets, we would still only be one third of the way towards achieving the Paris Agreement
Note that ‘land use’ (which tends to include deforestation) is considered a different sector to ‘agriculture’. 3 out of 10 (30%) of submitted G20 NDCs to date (Japan, Mexico, and the EU) have specific reduction targets for land use.
FAIRR analysed all 10 of updated Nationally Determined Contributions (2020 NDCs) so far submitted from G20 nations as of 10th July 2021. Note that the EU has submitted a single NDC on behalf of its member states which includes Italy, Germany and Spain – hence 10 ‘2020 NDCs’ submitted, representing 12 G20 countries.
FAIRR research finds no updated NDCs from G20 nations have clear national emissions reduction targets for the agricultural sector. By contrast 50% have set specific targets relating to the energy sector (EU, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, US) and two 20% have set specific targets relating to the transport sector (EU, Japan).
Energy is an important sector for reducing global GHG emissions, but food is too — and it’s currently flying under the radar. Broadly, including processing, transport and packaging, the global food system accounts for a third of total anthropogenic (i.e. human-caused) global greenhouse gas emissions. 
IPCC’s ‘Special Report on Climate Change and Land’ found that an estimated 23% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in the period 2007-2016 came from agriculture, forestry and other land use. The global estimates vary depending on the scope of emissions in the whole food system that are included.
We also need to think about the future. The currently projected growth in demand for meat means the food sector’s emissions are set to increase to a level which makes our climate goals completely impossible to achieve.
Given all this, it is cause for serious concern that FAIRR’s research has found that 86% of major meat and dairy suppliers are failing to declare or set meaningful reduction targets for all greenhouse gas emissions.
The FAO state that the livestock sector represents 14.5% of all human-induced emissions. This is a good lower benchmark for direct livestock emissions.
However, the 14.5% figure only tells part of the story. More recent research suggests that, including processing, transport and packaging, the global food system accounts for a third of total anthropogenic GHG emissions.
Scope 3 emissions, which include indirect land use change emissions from supply of crops, are important to consider alongside the direct emissions from the livestock sector in order to get an accurate picture of the sector’s contribution to global emissions. According to the Climate Disclosure Project (CDP), the average company’s scope 3 emissions are a huge 5.5 times greater than their Scope 1 and 2 emissions combined.
Gains in production efficiencies are offset by continued overall growth in emissions. These reductions are not consistent with the emissions reductions required to limit warming to 1.5°C as per Paris Agreement goals, and to limit further increases in CO2e parts per million in the atmosphere. 
Moreover, it is important to consider the indirect land footprint of intensive systems – including the land used to grow animal feed – as well as the direct land footprint. As an example, millions of hectares of land in Brazil have already been consigned to the growth of soy, 80% of which is used to feed livestock.
Additionally, increasing intensity of animal agriculture raises public health issues, such as increased rates of AMR and easier spread of zoonotic diseases.
There is a role for increasing sustainability of existing livestock systems through regenerative agriculture, but it is important to note that this has its limits as regenerative agriculture uses more land. Regenerative agriculture can improve soil health and yield some valuable environmental benefits but are unlikely to achieve large-scale emissions reductions without also reducing the amount of animal protein consumed.
The price of animal protein is heavily subsidised, so the prices we pay today do not reflect the true cost to society. By contrast, few subsidies have gone to plant products such as fruits and vegetables. As an example, in the EU 69-79% of the direct payments under the Common Agricultural Policy go towards livestock.
Bringing down the cost of plant-based foods is possible and will be an important priority to promote better health and nutrition.
According to the EAT Lancet report, we can feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries if we transition our food system according to their recommendations. The dietary pattern allows for flexible application to tailor to different preferences and contexts.
The EAT-Lancet guidelines provide a range of consumption that respects national and cultural differences, and guidelines recommend consumption of red meat in the range of 0 – 14g/day.
A study by the ILO and IADB recently found that in Latin America, the shift to plant-based diets would expand the creation of 19 million full-time equivalent jobs despite 4.3 million fewer jobs in livestock, poultry, dairy, and fishing.
While many people living in higher-income settings will need to eat less protein — and particularly less animal-sourced protein — we acknowledge that people in lower-income countries currently struggle to meet the standards the reference diet has set due to affordability.
There is an important role for governmental subsidy reform to support farmers in transitioning to new forms of low-carbon and sustainable protein production.
Recently, a group of investors representing over €2 trillion in collective assets called on the EU to align its agricultural subsidies with the climate change goals, including a Just Transition Mechanism for farmers.
A lack of clear national targets is currently disincentivizing climate action from agriculture firms: one in three of 60 of the world’s largest animal protein producers’ emissions reported an increase in emissions in 2019. As the global regulatory landscape moves to accelerate decarbonization, clear national targets for agriculture will lead to a better managed, more timely and better managed transition for all.
Trillions will need to be unlocked for the low-carbon transition – so investors and capital markets need transparency.
For more information please contact our Policy Director, Helena Wright. FAIRR members can do this through the member portal.