Of this week current climate, which brings you a balanced view of sustainability news every Saturday. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every week.
The World Economic Forum has again postponed its annual event in Davos, Switzerland due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but their annual Global Risk Report 2022 was published as planned. The report draws on insights from more than 1,000 academics, business, government, civil society and opinion leaders, as well as 12,000 leaders at the national level, about their perceptions of risk in the short, medium and long term. Risks associated with climate change, such as ‘extreme weather’ and ‘failure of climate action’, dominate short, medium and long-term concerns. The latter is also cited as one of the risks that have worsened since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, along with social cohesion erosion and livelihood crises.
The report isn’t easy or fun to read, but knowledge is power and only awareness of the risks we face can help us avoid them (as one movie put it, “look up!”). Other stories I highlight this week include energy forecasts for 2022, Denmark’s pledge to make domestic flights fossil-free by 2030, and how best to prepare a company for climate stress tests.
In Climate Talks, on the occasion of “Vegan,” I spoke with Richard Waite, a senior research associate at the World Resource Institute, about how a plant-based diet can influence agricultural carbon emissions.
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Energy forecasts for 2022: Coal decline accelerates, federal funds boost clean energy, millions of new electric vehicles and chargers
Five leading policy experts shared their forecasts for the year ahead, including the accelerating coal decline, federal investments driving clean energy adoption and network expansion, and millions of EVs hitting US roads to help EV chargers become a new class of investment.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced plans to domestic flights free of fossil fuels by 2030. Some experts believe it is an achievable target.
A bill in the state of New York would require mega-brands to increase the transparency of their supply chains and their social impact.
Asia’s richest businessman Mukesh Ambani has signed an MoU with the government of the Indian state of Gujarat to invest $80 billion in green projects, which, if implemented, would enable the state to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2035.
California is considering a change in its net measurement rules that would take significantly longer for PV installations to recoup their investment, and have a profound impact on the solar and storage markets, as well as carbon reduction targets.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that natural disasters will cost $145 billion by 2021. third highest account officially after 2017 and 2005.
At the current rate, the earth will have warmed by 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times in 2033— a level of warming experts had hoped it wouldn’t be seen this century.
Climate stress tests are here: 4 ways your company can prepare
As climate has become a widely recognized financial risk, regulators are conducting climate stress tests to better understand the magnitude and nature of climate risks.
Richard Waite is a senior research associate, Food Program, at the World Resource Institute. As an increasing number of people choose to start the year with a vegan diet, an initiative known as Veganuary, I spoke to Waite about how a plant-based diet can impact agricultural carbon emissions.
Agriculture contributes to more than a quarter of total global greenhouse gas emissions. What are the main causes of emissions in this sector?
Agriculture causes greenhouse gas emissions in two ways. The first is from the agricultural production process itself – emissions that occur on farms such as cow farmers or nitrous oxide emissions from the use of fertilizers, or methane emissions from paddy fields, and emissions that come from producing the farm inputs, such as producing the fertilizers. . And then the other category of emissions from land use change is deforestation. Agriculture is the major historical and current cause of deforestation, and tropical deforestation continues. Some people look at the food too [once it] goes to landfills, rot and [emits] methane, and that puts you at about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Livestock farming accounts for about two-thirds of agricultural production. Emissions and animal husbandry account for about three quarters of agricultural land use, so it is a major contributor to both sources of emissions. In the US, more than 80% of our agricultural production emissions are related to livestock, and almost half of that comes from beef alone. The high emissions from land use for livestock farming is a challenge, as the world is likely to add another two billion people by 2050. But at the same time, we must stop deforestation. We must have reduced greenhouse gas emissions completely to zero by 2050. So diets high in meat make it harder to balance that food security and global environmental goals. Another thing to think about is the different effects of the food. If you look per gram of protein, beef takes up about seven times as much land, and its production emits seven times as much greenhouse gas as chicken production, and 20 times the land and greenhouse gas emissions as beans per gram of protein.
What you describe is a complex and challenging picture. When people ask “What can I do to stop climate change”, switching to a plant-based diet is usually one of the top answers, but is a change in consumer demand enough to drive CO2 reduction in the industry? ?
The challenge of feeding 10 billion people and meeting these global environmental goals is so great that you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket – excuse the food-related pun. We must continue to improve agriculture as much as possible, including livestock. We also need to look at consumption patterns. When you think about what an individual can do, there are generally two things. If you eat a lot of meat and especially beef, switching to a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to go vegan or vegetarian. For example, we looked at a scenario where everyone in the north of the world cut their beef consumption to no more than one and a half burgers per person per week. That reduced emissions and land demand by so much that it was effectively possible to feed 10 billion people without further deforestation. So it’s a potentially pretty powerful solution. The other thing is to minimize food waste as more than a third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted between the farm and landfill.
As with any climate solution, it is not enough for concerned individuals to change their consumption patterns. It is about the decisions that companies and governments make. We have an initiative called Cool Food, where we partner with food service companies that commit to reducing their food-related emissions by 25% by 2030 by serving more delicious climate-friendly food. We help them measure their greenhouse gas footprint over time and bring insights from behavioral science to ensure the change they make will keep consumers happy. We’ve seen some really exciting progress, as they’ve already cut their emissions per plate by 16% through 2020.
In terms of reducing CO2 emissions, is it enough to switch from a beef burger to a plant-based burger at a fast food chain or should we rethink the way we eat in general?
There is no one panacea, but there are many things that push things in the right direction. Different consumers will probably be interested in different things. Some people who really like meat [will enjoy] those products that mimic the taste and texture of meat, but with a much lower impact, others can consume more beans and fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and so on. And some will say both. It’s all right on a social level.
What should consumers consider when shopping and dining out to switch to more sustainable food consumption, and can carbon labels be effective in supporting those decisions?
Two rules of thumb are: minimize the food you waste and eat a more plant-based diet, not necessarily vegan or vegetarian. Hopefully we can have credible carbon labeling in the future. But consumers are already bombarded with too much information when they go to the store, so adding complicated eco-labels [might not] things change too much. As part of the Cool Food initiative I mentioned, we launched the School Food Meals Program in 2020. It’s a small badge that says ‘cool meal’ that goes with meals or on a menu that fall below a certain greenhouse gas threshold. Now that we’ve been doing this for about a year, we’re going to evaluate [its impact] on food purchasing decisions, which are usually determined by taste, price and convenience. Next week we will also publish a study looking at different climate messages around food, to see what types of messages resonate with consumers.
Richard Waite’s answers have been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
on the horizon
As we venture further into this decade, which is crucial to making a significant dent in global carbon emissions, here’s what: trends are likely to dominate the coming year when it comes to energy transition, food sustainability and ESG strategies.