This Saturday 12 December 2015 was a historic day, however you look at it, without hyperbole. In one place, at one time, 196 countries agreed to something: to do something about climate change.
Another miracle: the United States and France worked together leading the discussions, with vision, courage, and true leadership.
All 196 agreed to the legally binding Paris Agreement “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change”. The 12 page agreement of 29 Articles (the whole text is 31 pages) will become legally binding once 55 countries that contribute over 55% of global greenhouse gases sign it.
This means that at least two of the three largest global emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) (and hungriest meat eaters) must sign: China (>25% of global GHG emissions), the United States (~16%), Europe, (11%).
China and Europe are likely to ratify. China needs to as it is quite literally suffocating and it can as it is not encumbered by a democratic process. Europe is ahead of the world when it comes to addressing climate change, so drinks on me if the EU doesn’t sign.
As for the US, while President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry and some remarkable members of Congress undeniably understand climate change’s catastrophic risks to national security, whether the Republican Congress will pass the agreement remains to be seen. After all, some members of congress won’t let science get in the way of a soundbite… or politics. Ah! Democracy….
If you’re interested in learning more about the Paris Agreement, there are countless terrific analyses online. Inside Climate News, Climate Central, and The Guardian are some of my go-to sources, but definitely not the only ones.
We, at New Harvest, are concerned about how the Paris Agreement will affect the production of animal proteins for a growing population. The only relevant binding clause, Article 5, relates to forests (in UN climate jargon, Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF)), the most efficient and important sink of greenhouse gases. Forests of all kinds, including irreplaceable tropical virgin ones, are being chopped down at unprecedented rates to make feed for livestock, currently our only source of animal proteins.
Article 5’s two paragraphs are lofty aspirations – “should” and “encouraged” are dead giveaways:
Para. 1.: “Parties should take action” to preserve sinks, which include forests.
Para. 2.: “Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support… policy and incentives… to reduc[e] emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”
It would be great if it were interpreted as binding developed countries to cut emissions from deforestation they cause in less developed countries (e.g., South America and Africa) largely to fuel the industrial livestock supply chain for American and Chinese bellies.
Article 5 sends us to paragraph 4, which establishes obligations (“shall”) and aspirations (“should”) mainly on transparency and accountability of emissions (good). You can see for yourself:
Developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.
Deforestation accounts for much of livestock’s 18% share of global greenhouse gases. Some think this is an overestimate, others an underestimate. We use the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 18% estimate because it is scientifically grounded and politically correct. But so you know, the World Watch Institute argue the real number is closer to 51% largely because the FAO report excludes breathing (exhalation of CO2) and, World Watch says, breathing of over 53 billion livestock is not insignificant. In its more recent livestock report, the FAO itself took 18% to 14.5% but omitted some deforestation. That’s a bit like calculating daily calorie intake but omitting the calories from the kids’ plate of fries you polished off because, if it’s not on my plate, it doesn’t count.
Deforestation would not be the issue it is today if even a fraction of the current intensive animal agriculture supply chain were replaced by cellular agriculture – if we harvested milk, eggs, meat, gelatin, etc. from cell cultures rather than from animals. Check out New Harvest’s website to learn more about these technologies and why funding research and development in this budding field can spur one of the greatest technological (r)evolutions in history.
The lowdown on the Paris Agreement? Most people I ask say, “it’s a good start”. It’s not really a start but starting is relative to who is starting, and on Saturday, the US and China started in earnest. And yes, that’s a start. Now we all need to run for our lives.
*The title refers to Christopher Stone’s Should Trees Have Standing: law, morals, and the environment, a landmark collection of essays on the rights of natural objects.
Gilonne d’Origny has an LLM in public international law and has followed climate negotiations since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
The Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change:
Paragraph 55 in Proposed Text by the President, III. Decisions to Give Effect to the Agreement, sub-category Finances:
Recognizes the importance of adequate and predictable financial resources, including for results-based payments, as appropriate, for the implementation of policy approaches and positive incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks; as well as alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests; while reaffirming the importance of non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches; encouraging the coordination of support from, inter alia, public and private, bilateral and multilateral sources, such as the Green Climate Fund, and alternative sources in accordance with relevant decisions by the Conference of the Parties;
1 Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases as referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1(d), of the Convention, including forests.
2 Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.