Nature and the environment are intrinsically entangled with climate change but, for decades, have been silent stakeholders of humanity’s actions. So much that we even allowed ourselves the naivety of believing we could keep consuming and producing to sustain our ways of living without having a further impact on our Planet.

But this has changed.

Over the past years, it has become more clear how nature has been affected. Earth has given us several examples of how our actions no longer seem as irrelevant as we once believed. From droughts to floods, wildfires, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, heatwaves, and a global pandemic, the world constantly reminds us it is reaching its limits. And we are no longer in a position of questioning it. Our role is to accept the consequences of our previous actions and decide how to move onwards - and which course of action to take to minimize these consequences and prevent further disasters. We cannot afford to keep the naivety of believing natural disasters are, in fact, just that - natural - while there is so much we can do to avoid and prevent these catastrophes.

According to the UN Environment Programmehuman activity has disrupted more than 75% of the Earth’s surface and put one (out of eight) million animal and plant species on the verge of extinction.

Since the ’70s, the world has lost an average of 68% of its biodiversity. In Latin America, this number goes high up to 94%. Much of this loss is caused by habitat destruction due to unsustainable agriculture and animal exploitation (WWF, 2020).

The alarming advance of deforestation in the last years was highlighted at COP 26, where nature was discussed throughout different topics, ranging from the importance of the indigenous communities as nature keepers to the need for investments in nature-based solutions and greener farming practices, to the pledges made to spur the commitments to achieve a more sustainable living, such as:

  • The Declaration on Forests and Land Use, signed by 141 countries - covering over 90% of the world’s forests - focuses on the sustainable use, protection, and restoration of forests to meet Paris goals. 
  • The Global Methane Pledge, signed by over 100 countries - representing 70% of the global economy - is a commitment to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, using a 2020 baseline. According to the IPCC report, methane is responsible for about half of the 1ºC rise in the net global temperature rise since the pre-industrial era.

Although a nice step towards progress, these pledges lead to yet another problem that leaders worldwide seem to be continuously disregarding: the impact of agriculture on achieving climate change and how global leaders can’t fulfill their methane promises without a further change in agriculture.

Why is that?
  • The food system accounts for more than 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That means that, even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, the food system as we know it today would make it impossible to limit global warming to 1.5°C;
  • Agriculture is the largest source of human-caused methane emissions, representing approximately 40%;
  • Livestock alone accounts for approximately one-third of all methane emissions;
  • 50% of all habitable land is used for agriculture. In comparison, only 1% is a built-up urban area which includes cities, towns, villages, roads, and other human infrastructure;
  • Animal agriculture is also inefficient. Livestock takes up 77% of the Earth’s agricultural land while producing merely 18% of the total calories and 37% protein. It also requires way more resources than other food sources and has a more massive impact on the environment. (Source: Our World in Data)

Reducing methane emissions is one of the most impactful ways to reduce the temperature as we work towards a net-zero society.

We need to invest in new farming practices and in creating more sustainable solutions to support agriculture, but even more, we need to reallocate investments to develop new industries that will disrupt the way we perceive and consume food. The beef production can be sustainable, but not at the pace it needs to sustain the current consumption demand. Investment should shift into plant-based alternatives or lab-farm meat that does not rely on livestock.

We need to challenge ourselves to rethink agriculture and meat consumption. According to Dr. Johan Rockström, supporting household behavior changes is a crucial but often overlooked opportunity for climate action. In this context, changing our eating behaviors positively contributes to achieving climate change goals.

It is not easy to embrace new paths and changes, especially when they rely on us changing inherited habits that we might have never considered changing before.

However, as Prof. António Costa e Silva saidour civilization is at a crossroads, and the future will depend on our choices. 

What we decide to do now will change not only our future but the future of Earth and generations to come. Sustainability is a choice that cannot be constrained to just one or two aspects of our lives. Choosing what we consume - including how and what we eat - is a significant step we can take today to achieve climate action. It is up to us to make that choice.

"The social-economic transformations we need will only happen when we reset our relationship with nature, understanding that we can no longer invest in that which harms our planet” (Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP)

Have a great and impactful week!

Natália Cantarino
Center for Responsible Business and Leadership

This article refers to edition #127 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter and covers SDG 9, 13, 14 and 15.
Subscribe here to receive the weekly newsletter!