Climate, Health and Equity Brief
Methane, Meat and Migration
September 20, 2021
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.
Hot Topic: Food for thought. President Biden announced Friday that the United States and Europe will work to cut global methane emissions by a third by 2030—an “ambitious but achievable” goal the U.S. has also pledged to help developing countries meet. The announcement came as Climate Week is set to kick off Monday in New York City, and six weeks before world leaders will gather in Glasgow for COP26, the UN climate change conference at which countries update their plans for reducing emissions.
The need for action from world leaders in Glasgow is urgent. Greenhouse gas emissions are currently poised to grow by 16 percent this decade, even as scientists indicate that they must decrease by at least 25 percent by 2030 to avert the worst impacts of climate change. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry calls this year’s COP26 meeting “the last, best chance the world has” to turn the tide.
For these reasons and more, President Biden’s methane announcement comes at a critical time. A new report found that the combined annual greenhouse gas emissions from just five meat and dairy companies equal that of oil and gas giant ExxonMobil, and that the top 20 livestock producers emit more greenhouse gases annually than Germany, Britain or France. The process to raise livestock is carbon-, land- and water-intensive, and agricultural activities including raising livestock, producing feed and cultivating crops are together responsible for an estimated 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Methane makes up an estimated 56-58 percent of agricultural emissions—and while methane only stays in the atmosphere for approximately a decade, its ability to trap heat in the atmosphere during that time is 21 times greater than that of CO2.
Another new food-related report out this week highlights the expected, climate-fueled global loss of staple crops—including wheat, rice and soy—and predicts that almost one-third of the world’s cropland will be exposed to severe drought for at least three months each year by 2050. This scenario is particularly troubling given that population growth is projected to fuel a 50-75 percent increase in global food demand during the same time frame. Projected crop decline is one of the reasons the World Bank now predicts that climate change could displace 200 million people and force massive global migration shifts by 2050.
From livestock to crops, ensuring food security for future generations requires significant emissions reductions from the agricultural sector. Controversial as the topic may be to some, scientists agree that one of the most impactful ways to reduce emissions across the agricultural industry—as well as to improve human health—is to adopt more plant-based diets. While climate action by the highest global emitters—governments and businesses—will take center stage in the weeks ahead, this is one way we can take action in our own lives to feed our convictions while feeding ourselves.
— Matt & Traci, GMMB
Politics & Economy
In a virtual climate meeting hosted by the White House this week, President Biden urged world leaders to sign onto a joint pledge between the U.S. and Europe to cut global methane emissions by a third over the coming decade. (The New York Times)
A new report revealed that the combined emissions of 20 livestock companiesis more than those of Germany, Britain or France, bringing more scrutiny to the livestock industry, which accounts for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. (The Hill)
Staple crop yields, including wheat, rice, and soy, could decline by nearly a third by 2050 if emissions are not significantly reduced, threatening global food supplies in the face of rapidly increasing global demand for food, according to a new report. (Bloomberg)
A new study revealed that nearly half of all young people worldwide say anxiety and distress over the climate crisis affects their daily lives, while another surveyshows nearly three in four people worldwide believe climate change will cause them personal harm. (CNBC, The Washington Post)
A new World Bank report warns that climate change could displace 200 million people by 2050 and force massive global migration shifts due to water scarcity, decreasing crop productivity and rising sea levels. (AP News)
The best decisions for health turn out to be the best decisions for the farmers and the environment—there is no contradiction there.”
A new report details how Indigenous-led protests and resistance to 21 fossil fuel projects in the U.S. and Canada over the past 10 years has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to at least 25 percent of U.S. and Canadian annual emissions. (Grist)
A new report found that 227 environmental activists were murdered in 2020 for their work protecting natural resources, the highest number recorded for the second year in a row, with Indigenous Peoples accounting for a third of those killed. (BBC)
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has unanimously voted to ban urban oil drilling, a move that will decrease public health risks faced by the county’s residents—73 percent of whom are people of color. (Los Angeles Times)
Brazil, the world’s largest beef exporter, has approved the use of a cattle feed that can reduce methane emissions by cows as much as 55 percent. (Bloomberg)
The state of Vermont sued ExxonMobil, Shell, Sunoco and Citgo in an effort to require the oil companies to label their products as harmful to the environment. (ABC News)
Wonder about some of the less technical innovations to tackle climate change? Check out this spotlight on German scientists who are potty-training cows to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Aaron Benavides, Elke Cortes, Stefana Simonetto and Sydney Lykins. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.