COP26 opens with urgent call to action’ last chance saloon’

Greta Thunberg on an escalator with two people giving a thumps up at camera
Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrives at Glasgow Central Station ahead of COP26, Scotland, October 30, 2021, photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Climate-damaging impacts of animal agriculture barely on COP26 agenda

The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 kicked off in the Scottish city of Glasgow on Sunday. “Quite literally, it is the last chance saloon,” Britain’s Prince Charles said during a speech to G20 leaders.

The G20 bloc, which includes France, India, Brazil, Germany, China, India, Germany and the United States, is responsible for an estimated 80% of the global gas emissions that scientists say must be sharply reduced to avoid climate catastrophe.

At the COP26 conference, government representatives from around 200 countries will discuss how they can maintain global warming at a tolerable level.

Around 25,000 people are expected to attend COP26, including thousands of journalists, animal rights organizations and climate protection groups.

“We will need trillions of dollars of investment every year to create the necessary new infrastructure and meet the vital 1.5 degrees climate target that will save our forests and farms, our oceans and our wildlife,” Prince Charles said.

COP26 president Alok Sharma said in his opening speech how important it is to meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Six years ago, 197 countries agreed in Paris to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialization levels, or preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

But so far, the plans submitted by the states are far from sufficient. Many countries have not tightened their climate plans, environmental groups complained before the conference.

“This COP is our last best hope to keep 1.5 in reach. This international conference must deliver,” Sharma said.

“COP26 is a historic opportunity to save our planet, but I cannot help but feel that this already looks like a missed opportunity”

Josef Pfabigan, CEO Four Paws

Since pre-industrial times, human activity has already warmed Earth by about 1.1 degrees Celsius. In Germany, it is already 1.6 degrees. 

This human-caused warming of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases is already causing extreme weather to become more frequent. 

Examples include recent floods in Germany and the Netherlands, drought in the Sahel region in Africa and devastating forest fires in Greece, Spain, the United States and Russia.

Early on Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he was hoping for a “spirit of responsibility and ambition” in Glasgow to keep alive the Paris target.

Germany’s Environment Minister, Svenja Schulze, stressed that concrete implementation of the climate targets had to become a focus during COP26. “This is urgently needed: The world is still far from being on course for 1.5 degrees,” she said.

Thousands of climate activists have arrived in Scotland during the past days, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

Animal agriculture
Celebrities including Billie Eilish, Joaquin Phoenix, Moby and Ricky Gervais, and more than 50 animal welfare and environmental organizations have been campaigning for weeks to make the climate-damaging impacts of animal agriculture central to the COP26 agenda.

But animal agriculture will barely be discussed during the climate change conference. Calls to serve a plant-based menu during the two-week conference were also ignored by COP26.

Josef Pfabigan, CEO of animal welfare organization Four Paws, said that “it is now or never” for global leaders to put animal welfare and animal agriculture front and centre of the climate debate. 

“COP26 is a historic opportunity to save our planet, but I cannot help but feel that this already looks like a missed opportunity as animal welfare is inexplicably not only not at the top of the agenda but has only just been added in as last-minute afterthought,” Pfabigan said.

Each year, 88 billion animals are raised and then slaughtered for food consumption. Intensive animal farming is responsible for 14.5 to 16.5 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“We need immediate changes in the system at governmental and industry level so consumers can follow. There is no doubt that extensive meat production and consumption are main drivers for CO2 emissions,” he added.

Musician Moby sent a video message to COP26 President Alok Sharmawhich he produced with animal welfare organization Humane Society International.

“When talking about animal agriculture – meat and dairy production – to people, a lot of them are not aware of the environmental consequences,” Moby said.

“You cannot practically and effectively address climate change without ending our alliance with meat and dairy production,” he added.

“Meat and dairy is destroying the only home we have. Ultimately, we have to address these issues, or these issues will destroy us.”

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