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Welcome to the COP Circus

Written by: Mallory Gaines   |   December 14, 2023

Trade, global, policy

Often, people refer to the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP) as a “three-ring circus” because of all the happenings that take place there. This year’s COP28, held in Dubai, was no different. We held our breath as countries’ policy positions reached new heights, knowledge sharing walked a tightrope, and the COP presidency declarations became the only elephant in the room. The American Feed Industry Association’s Constance Cullman and I were not only spectators of the multilateral meeting, but also active participants. 

Keeping with the “circus” analogy, like any good performer, there is practice, practice, practice before a performance. For the AFIA, that “practice” included collaborating with our industry partners to ensure the U.S. government fully represented the animal agriculture and food industries. We worked with the International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF) to engage with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). We also set up AFIA’s sustainability priorities and educated the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service staff on how the animal food industry contributes to sustainable and climate-smart solutions.  

For years, these efforts have been underway—educating, collaborating, sharing, and pushing for the world to see animal agriculture as a solution, a positive and necessary part of our food system. This year, the animal agriculture industry held its breath waiting for three things: a declaration on food and agriculture from the COP28 presidency [the United Arab Emirates (UAE)], and two papers from the FAO.  

First on the tightrope, the UAE announced the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action. Our breath collectively released, as the UAE made it across that taught rope and great divide. The declaration highlighted two things of utmost importance: productivity growth and trade. Signed by over 150 countries, including the United States, the declaration also recognized that production is an important path to sustainability and that trade is a way to ensure food security, two points the AFIA has been continually making.  

Then, the FAO published the, “Pathways toward lower emissions – a global assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation options from livestock agrifood systems.” We applauded the FAO’s use of sound scientific data and are excited to see the mitigation steps the animal agriculture community has implemented over the past several years starting to take effect.  

In fact, the FAO report showed a decrease from 14% to 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions by livestock systems! Not only that, but the FAO stated that reducing meat consumption is the second least effective way to reduce methane emissions and noted that productivity improvements have the highest positive impact.  

For the final act, the FAO published the report, “Achieving SDG2 without breaching the 1.5C threshold: a global roadmap,” which, the food and agriculture industry was anxiously watching. Reports of this nature in the past have leaned heavily on activist rhetoric with little practicality or science. To our surprise, the FAO acknowledged that productivity growth IS sustainable.  

The FAO report included a section on livestock that states, “Livestock are a source of high-quality protein and micronutrients that are essential for normal development and good health,” and suggested countries take action on items such as genetic improvements, intensifying production and protecting animal health.

Animal agriculture and animal food want to be part of the climate and food security solution. As we have voiced many times before, we are here, and we are working toward more sustainable production for a healthier climate for all.  

COP may be considered by some to be “a circus,” but the truth is, if you are not present, if you only spectate, then your performance is unseen. While at COP28, we participated on panels, moderated sessions, met with stakeholders, held bilateral meetings with the FAO, World Wildlife Fund-U.S. and the International Livestock Research Institute, all organizations which want to collaborate and view animal agriculture as central to meeting global climate and sustainability goals.

The animal food industry cannot pull back now; we must keep perfecting our performance, meeting our climate goals, and actively participating in multilateral dialogues to ensure the voice of agriculture and food is heard! 

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