Announcing plans to reform agricultural practices, the UK government acknowledged there was “an urgent need to reform the way we grow and consume food” to tackle climate change.
But it failed to mention reducing meat and dairy consumption - despite warnings that it will be impossible to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C without dramatic cuts worldwide in their production.
Three-quarters of agricultural emissions of damaging greenhouse gases come from livestock, studies show.
Growing vast amounts of crops to feed livestock for meat and dairy is a leading cause of deforestation and the release of carbon dioxide.
Scientists and others, including the Climate Change Committee, have repeatedly called for drastic cuts in production of meat and dairy to curb the climate crisis.
The day before the pledges were unveiled, a report warned that limiting Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5C would be impossible without dramatic cuts, calling on governments to crack down on meat and dairy.
On “nature and land-use day” at Cop26, 45 countries are due to set out promises to transform agriculture and food systems through policy changes, research and innovation.
New measures will include developing climate-resilient crops and “regenerative solutions” to improve soil health.
There will be action to make these techniques and resources affordable and accessible to hundreds of millions of farmers globally, ministers promise, with over $4bn (£2.96bn) of new public-sector investment.
Food systems, including distribution and retail, produce at least a third of all the world’s greenhouse gases, according to the UN.
“Urgent action on land use is needed as demand for food increases. We are currently losing forests, damaging soils and rapidly destroying other ecosystems that play a critical role in absorbing carbon and cooling the planet,” the UK government said.
Farmers’ livelihoods are also under pressure as climate change reduces productivity.
Some 28 governments, including the UK, which account for 75 per cent of global trade in forest-wrecking goods such as palm oil, cocoa and soya, have agreed a plan for “sustainable” trade, including supporting smallholder farmers.
Almost 100 high-profile UK companies are due to agree to work towards reversing the decline of nature by 2030. They include Ovo Energy which plans to plant a million trees, and Severn Trent, which has pledged to restore over 2,000 acres of peatland.
The Co-op, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose are promising to cut their environmental impact on the climate, deforestation and nature.
The UK will launch a package to help protect 5 million hectares of rainforests from deforestation, equivalent to more than 3.5 million football pitches. It will create thousands of green jobs, it’s promised.
Environment secretary George Eustice said: “To keep 1.5 degrees alive, we need action from every part of society, including an urgent transformation in the way we manage ecosystems and grow, produce and consume food on a global scale.”
The UK will also outline initiatives including developing sustainable supply chains in tropical countries and helping establish a Global Centre on Biodiversity for Climate.
Government officials will also launch a programme to help developing countries switch to more sustainable methods of agriculture and food production.
Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International UK, which has run a campaign called The Cow in the Room to persuade leaders to talk about animal agriculture’s effects, said: “There is clearly much to welcome in this announcement, but a critical piece of the sustainable food system jigsaw is missing: livestock reduction.
“Unless governments make bold headline commitments to reduce animal agriculture and invest in alternative protein innovation and uptake, it’s like we’re trying to put out our climate change house fire with teacups of water. Just as we now accept the challenge of replacing fossil fuels with renewables, we need also to acknowledge the need to end factory farming.”
A government spokeswoman said it was already doing a significant amount in the agriculture and food areas, saying: “well-managed livestock also provide environmental benefits such as supporting biodiversity, protecting the character of the countryside and generating important income for rural communities”.
“Our landmark Agriculture Act will achieve a clear balance between farming and climate change and ensure the environment is at the heart of future farming policy,” she added.
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