MON 5 - 12 - 2022
Date: Feb 16, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Climate between oil and meat, nations join the fight
Najib Saab
While oil-producing countries did not object, this time, to reducing carbon emissions by enhancing efficiency and introducing renewable and clean sources as a key element in the energy mix, beef-producing countries on the other hand resisted the slightest reference to the impact of their production and consumption on the environment and human health.

Hundreds of scientists recently presented a summary of the results of their six-year work on the sixth edition of the Global Environment Outlook report (GEO-6) at an international meeting in Nairobi. The aim was for countries to agree on a joint declaration on the most important environmental challenges and ways to address them, based on scientific consensus. The report, to be released at the U.N. Environment Assembly in March, calls for the efficient use of natural resources, coupled by accelerated action to reduce carbon emissions. One unique aspect in the report is that it does not only examine the impact of emissions on climate change, but also on air quality, which the World Health Organization asserts is the biggest environmental cause of disease.

The report notes that achieving the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees, which is the maximum acceptable limit to avoid uncontainable natural disasters that threaten human existence itself, requires a rapid transition to clean and renewable energy sources. It also requires an adjustment in consumption and production patterns, to enhance efficiency and reduce waste.

It also warns of significant degradation in biodiversity as species continue to decline, deforestation increases, and productive land shrinks due to intensive agriculture and excessive exploitation of forests, coupled with unsustainable land use. It also calls for taking into account the ability of nature to bear the ecological footprint of agricultural production by adopting sustainable production methods and adjusting consumption patterns.

A scientific report issued recently found that meat and dairy production was a major cause of land degradation and climate change. While livestock provide only 18 percent of the world’s calories, they use 83 percent of farmland. Cow farms are also one of the major sources of greenhouse gases, produced in different phases of the cycle. However, the report found that cattle breeding in dry lands that do not produce natural feed causes 12 times more greenhouse gases than those grown in natural pastures. It also confirms that reducing consumption of meat and dairy products is one of the fastest ways in which individuals can contribute to reducing their environmental footprint and limiting climate change. It is therefore necessary to raise cattle in appropriate natural pastures and to reduce meat consumption by increasing meals constituting of vegetables and grains, alongside poultry and fish.

In addition to its advanced position in meat production, Brazil occupies a prominent position in the production of biofuels, ranking second after the United States. Biofuels, especially ethanol, emit 90 percent less greenhouse gases (GHGs) compared to oil and coal, and are at the heart of Brazil’s measures to meet its commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030. Biogas production in Brazil depends on sugarcane, and to a less extent maize, which require large tracts of land to be cultivated. This comes at the expense of forests, resulting in degradation of natural habitats and loss of biodiversity. On the other hand, growing crops in agricultural land to be used for fuel production causes competition with food production, which is needed to feed hundreds of millions of hungry people. The environmental report calls for a balance between the different needs of biodiversity conservation, natural forests and the right of hungry people to food, as well as reducing emissions by using biofuels.

During the last meeting, oil exporting countries did not object, as their pattern in the past, to the call for reducing GHGs emissions, through promoting efficiency measures to cut the use of fossil fuels, besides the deployment of renewable energy on a large scale. This reflects deep changes in these countries over the past years, characterized by adopting strong policies to diversify the economy, and move away from unhealthy dependency on oil. In contrast, Brazil, supported by Argentina, resisted any call for restraints on crops used to produce biofuels, in view of balancing their impact on biodiversity and natural habitat, considering this matter a sovereign national right.

Argentina joined Brazil in refusing the inclusion of any direct reference to the environmental and health effects of the unsustainable production and consumption of beef. This can be attributed to the fact that Brazil and Argentina rank second and sixth as the largest producers of beef in the world.

It was interesting to note that the United States, the global leader in beef and biofuels production, did not join the complaint of Brazil and Argentina, as it did not object to reducing emissions from fossil fuels and adopting renewable energy, leading to a carbon-free economy. However, it objected to the transfer of technology to developing countries without restrictions, a traditional position to protect the interests of patent-holders among major corporations.

Countries cannot be forbidden to defend their rights to harness their resources and generate income that benefits their peoples, whether this comes from oil, meat or biofuels. But nature also has rights that need to be respected, by balancing the demands of the economy and the environment, in a way that ensures sustainable development. Developing countries, that are called upon to transition to a carbon-free economy, also have the right to receive technological and financial support from developed countries to achieve this goal.

It is not true that meeting the needs of 10 billion people in terms of energy, food and water in 2050 requires doubling the quantities produced, which in turn increases the ecological footprint. What’s required is enhancing efficiency and diminishing waste in order to meet needs by using less resources. Modification of consumption patterns is key to ensure rational use of our limited natural wealth.

Najib Saab is secretary-general of Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) and editor-in-chief of Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia magazine (

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 14, 2019, on page 6.

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