Fake it ‘til you make it: faux meat and climate change

no-meat-pictureIf it tastes like a burger, and bleeds like a burger, it must be . . . plant-based protein?

At least that’s the outcome fake-meat innovators like Impossible Burger are striving for: a meatless burger that captures the textures and flavors of meat to whet the appetite of even the staunchest carnivores.

In fact, the fake meat industry’s approach might be working. Whether for health, environmental, or ethical reasons, more people are tossing veggie burgers on the grill. Food giants like Tyson are taking notice: last year, Tyson bought a 5% stake in Beyond Meat. Google’s Eric Schmidt even identified plant-based proteins as the number one “game-changing” trend of the future.

The growth of the fake meat industry is good news for climate change. After all, the world’s appetite for meat drives 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. According to a U.N. report, factory-farmed animals contribute more to climate change than all the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined. Having each American replace chicken with plant-based foods at just one meal per week is equivalent to taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.

Further, feeding huge numbers of confined animals uses more food than it produces. And while some cultures may be willing to eat insects to cut the impact of livestock on our planet, this option does not seem compatible with–or palatable to–the tastes of Western nations.

The incredible impact of factory farming adds up when you take a hard look at demand. For example, Americans eat three times the recommended level of meat. Given meat’s impact on climate, eating “like an American” is beyond sustainable. “Even in doing everything we can to reduce the emissions associated with meat production, rising demand means livestock emissions would take us beyond the global objective of 2ºC,” said Rob Bailey, a research director at the think tank Chatham House. “Therefore, dietary change is a precondition for avoiding catastrophic climate change.”

Even the UN Climate Change Conferences recognize the importance of dietary change. In addition to focusing on low-carbon and free range food, COP 23 plans to serve a higher share of vegetarian and vegan food than at past sessions.

In changing people’s diets, using “nanny statism“ to tax dairy and meat products–while theoretically effective–may rub Western nations the wrong way. Given the personal choice and cultural intricacies involved in making dinner, “it is not the place of governments or civil society to intrude into people’s lives and tell them what to eat.”

But the fake meat industry might just bring home the bacon. With more and more palatable options, and the withering taboo of veggie burgers for “radical vegetarians,” free market innovation is helping carnivore nations put more plant-based foods on the table. If the fake meat industry puts out a good spread, it could spark a marked drop in greenhouse gas emissions and help feed the world along the way.

 


Small Island Developing States Fishing for Adaptation Solutions

Coral aquaculture in FijiFor Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Fiji, climate change adaptation requires immediate action. As my colleague Val analyzed previously, fish stocks are depleted and international tensions are rising as each nation attempts to protect the fishing economy it still maintains. When the Ocean Conference met in June of 2017, participants recognized the crucial role oceans play as a climate regulator and the impact the changing environment would have on food and nutrition. This will be particularly impactful on SIDS as fisheries fade; those nations now cast for ideas in alternative food options. Some SIDS have hooked on aquaculture as an adaptive strategy.

The average consumption of seafood in the world is roughly 20 kg/capita/year with 70% of SIDS exceeding that global average. That, with the rising ocean temperatures, the migration of fish out of their previously habitable areas and the unsustainable fishing practices, creates a massive deficit in global fish markets when measured against demand. This mismatch creates the perfect atmosphere for aquaculture development.

Biota-Palau-Hatchery-1In 2015, the total aquaculture production of SIDS was 71,893 tons, with Cuba manning the helm with around 30,000 tons. Overall, most nations produced less than 100 tons of aquaculture and the diversity of SIDS creates a particular problem with the implementation of any “one-size-fits-all” program. Branching off of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)’s FAO program, Palau, Nauru, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) formed the Micronesian Association for Sustainable Aquaculture (MASA) in November of 2015. MASA’s goal is to facilitate region specific cooperative programs and assistance in order to meet demand and reduce market reliance on fish.

Implementation of these adaptation techniques is an issue that runs through COP 23 and is recognized also by the Oceans Conference. The Oceans Conference emphasized the need for sustainable development goals (SDG14), and a Blue Economy to support and finance ocean initiatives. It specifically mentioned the strengthening of sustainable economies with reference to aquaculture within their action plan. Based on that action plan, the Seychelles raised roughly $40 million towards their SDG14 and their INDC places a heavy emphasis on sustainable fisheries and adaptation to ocean climate change. This funding will have a substantial impact on their ocean economy. But funding is challenging to acquire. With the Green Climate Fund (GCF) increasing fund accessibility for least developed countries (LDC) for adaptation plans, this could present an opportunity for many nations who have already implemented or are in the process of implementing aquaculture plans to acquire necessary funding. While the GCF does not specifically address aquaculture as an adaptation strategy, several nations, including SIDS like Vanuatu and Tuvalu, have already included in their GCF proposals aquaculture adaptation strategies.

With the current momentum aquaculture dSustainable-Aquaculture.adapt.1190.1evelopment has gained in SIDS, COP 23 has the unique advantage for aquaculture and sustainable fishing measures with Fiji at its helm. While the focus of the Paris Agreement was the mitigation of effects to reduce the overall rise in temperature, adaptation still remains a strong focus for the countries that are feeling the most significant of those effects. Aquaculture has worked its way into the economies of many nations and will hopefully further alleviate the burden that climate change is having on SIDS.


Seeing is believing

cat 5 stormThe poll numbers on the U.S. electorate’s perceptions of climate change have changed over the years. After the most recent spate of tropical storms out of the Atlantic, a new poll by Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 68% of Americans think weather disasters seem to be worsening.  Moreover, almost all of this 68% attribute this increase in extreme weather events totally or mostly (46%) to human-induced climate change or at least in combination (39%) with natural variability.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US has experienced 15 weather disasters that cost $1 billion or more. The Associated Press’s analysis of 167 years of federal storm data concludes that “no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, this many days of those storms spinning in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.” Having experienced the recent storms first-hand, Greg Thompson, a retired pest control researcher in New Orleans, sees it this way: “When so many things are happening and so many of them (storms) are intense and so many of them are once-in-500-year levels and they’re all occurring, it’s a pretty good sign global warming is having an effect.”


Fishing on Savage Seas

The next big war will not be over highfalutin ideologies. Depleted natural resources will force vulnerable countries to fight for basic goals: food and economic security. The struggle will intensify as climate change affects natural resource distribution. Changes in distribution are dangerous, especially for countries whose economies are dependent on unpredictable resources like fish.

National vulnerability to the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries.

National vulnerability to the impacts of climate change on marine fisheries.

A recent study revealed that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change on fisheries. Analyzing 147 states and their respective EEZs, the study found that SIDS held seven of the top ten positions in the study’s vulnerability index. Moreover, the index includes all 31 of the LDCs with coastlines, with 87% of those LDCs belonging to the top half.

A separate study found that disparities in vulnerability levels, when paired with poor governance, tend to result in unrest and violent conflict. Poor governance results in poor resource management. Poor resource management leads to overfishing. Overfishing results in scarcity, which drives more people to the coasts and out into contentious waters. The fact that territorial boundaries do not consider traditional fishing routes only exacerbates the problem.

Vietnamese fishing boats caught illegally fishing of Palau's coasts. (Photo by Jeff Banube, The Pew Charitable Trusts)

Vietnamese fishing boats caught illegally fishing of Palau’s coasts. (Photo by Jeff Banube, The Pew Charitable Trusts)

These results are more than mere variables scientists feed into a formula. On the oceans, the battle over marine resources has already begun. Empty fisheries along coastlines have pushed fishermen further out to sea – sometimes into dangerous waters owned and closely guarded by other states. Just this April, Indonesia blew up 81 fishing vessels operated by Vietnamese, Filipino, and Malaysian fishermen. Last year, Argentina sank a Chinese fishing vessel caught illegally fishing in restricted South American waters. In 2015, Palau burned Vietnamese fishing vessels poaching off Palau’s coasts. The frequency of these incidents hints at a bigger, more serious problem that the international community has only begun to address.

Mitigating climate change is an obvious solution to this problem. However, achieving the two-degree-celsius goal of the Paris Agreement is only part of the answer. The other part consists of finding a way to manage marine resources equitably and sustainably. And, several states have begun doing just that.

From June 5-7, 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the first Oceans Conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. It was convened pursuant to UN Resolution 70/1 of September 25, 2015, adopting Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. One of the goals is to  “[c]onserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”  This goal, termed Goal 14, ambitiously sets out to effectively end overfishing and illegal fishing practices, and implement the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Oceans Conference encourages stakeholders – consisting of the UN System, state actors, and non-state actors – to register voluntary commitments to achieve Goal 14. There are currently over 1000 voluntary commitments registered in the Conference’s online platform, forty-four percent of which came from governments, including India and China.

This momentum will likely carry over to Fiji’s agenda in COP23. Speaking to Pacific Island leaders and diplomats in Suva, Fiji on March 2017, Fijian Prime Minister and COP23 President Voreqe Bainimarama said:

Prime Minister Bainimarama at the Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) event held in Suva, Fiji on March 2017. The event was organized to support and strengthen the participation of small island developing states in the Pacific in the global climate action agenda.

Prime Minister Bainimarama at the Climate Action Pacific Partnership (CAPP) event held in Suva, Fiji on March 2017.

“In a very real sense, we are fighting a two-front war. One front is the fight to keep the oceans clean and to sustain the marine plant and animal life on which we depend for our livelihoods and that keep the earth in proper balance . . . The other front is the fight to slow the growth of global warming and, unfortunately, also to adapt to the changes we know are coming – to rising seas, encroaching sea water, violent storms and periods of drought.”

The world’s oceans is a highly contentious area “governed” by a different set of international treaties. It is unlikely that the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement can address the problem on their own. However, the frequency of violent incidents at sea and the urgency of addressing this volatile situation calls for a unified and streamlined solution that cuts across multiple international agreements. The hope is that with Fiji – a small island developing state – at the helm of COP23, the oceans will finally receive the attention they deserve.


Continuing to Decouple

Photograph by Carlos Barria - REUTERS

Photograph by Carlos Barria – REUTERS

For the third year in a row, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the energy sector remained level while the global economy grew. This continues to buck the economic thinking that economic growth, typically measured with gross domestic product (GDP), cannot be decoupled from environmental degradation. The current trend of decoupling GDP from CO2 emissions is largely due to the global growth of renewable energy use. Solar energy was the fastest growing source of renewables in 2016, while hydropower supplied the largest portion of global electricity demand growth of all the renewables. 

A recent report from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released September 28, 2017 found that of the five largest emitters, which account for 68% of global CO2 emissions, only India showed a significant rising trend of greenhouse gas emissions. China, the U.S., the E.U., Russia, and Japan all had flat or decreased greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. However, in a departure from the IEA report from March 2017, this report found that global emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2016. Of these non-CO2 greenhouse gasses, methane emissions represented the largest portion—19% of global emissions. The primary sources of methane include fossil fuel production, cattle, and rice—a staple crop in the developing world.

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, another recent study released in September 2017 in Science revealed that a thinning of tropical forest density has led to a net carbon loss across every continent. This indicates that forests are no longer behaving as sinks because they have been degraded through logging, fire, and drought, among other factors. Forests provide a vast natural resource for developing countries yet increasing the sink capabilities of forests through afforestation, reforestation, and decreased forest degradation are among mitigation goals of these countries. This study highlights both the importance and the challenge of those goals. The international target of limiting warming to no more than 2˚C is unattainable without vast carbon sinks like these forests.

The decoupling of emissions from economic growth globally is cause for celebration. However, as seen with India, this trend is still tentative as developing countries work to increase economic growth, which could include increased agricultural production, forests use, and energy use. To continue decreasing global emissions, more work is required to assist the developing world with sustainable development. Increased methane emissions from the agricultural sector and increased CO2 emissions from loss of forest mass are among several challenges facing the developing world as they seek to grow. There are viable solutions to many of these problems. Yet these solutions require significant assistance and resources from the international community.

The developing world requires assistance in electrification and energy diversification in the way of hydropower and other renewables so the decoupling trend can continue. These countries also require capacity building to bolster forestry sector projects; the transfer of technology and best practices to assist with the growth of sustainable agriculture; and of course, continued mitigation efforts from developed countries.


A solar high

renew2017MRSAccording to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy in 2016, beating out all other energy sources, including coal. New solar capacity increased by 50% globally in 2016, with China accounting for almost half of this expansion. Despite current uncertainty about renewable energy policy in the United States, the US is still the second-largest growth market for renewables. By 2022, India is expected to more than double its current renewable electricity capacity.  The IEA predicts that these three countries alone will account for two-thirds of global renewable energy growth by 2022.  According to Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, this rapid growth in 2016 indicates a “new era” for solar energy, which is driven by continuous reductions in the technology’s cost and market dynamics in China resulting from policy changes.

Looking beyond solar energy, renewables overall accounted for two-thirds of all new energy capacity in 2016. IEA sees renewables growing “by about 1,000 GW (gigawatts) by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build.” According to Birol, “while coal remains the largest source of electricity generation in 2022, renewables close in on its lead.”


Is the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement a conservative act?

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“We’re definitely, completely, undoubtedly leaving the accord.” With these words, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This decision did not come as a surprise, although it disappointed many around the globe. Now the question is, will it impede global progress toward limiting the rise in temperatures?

Michael Oppenheimer, Princeton climate scientist and co-editor of the Journal of Climactic Change thinks it could, saying “if we lag, the noose tightens” — despite the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s estimate that the US is forty years ahead of forecasts in renewable energy growth.

Surprisingly, the same conservative Republican Party principles that led the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement are also preventing lag. A strong military, free market and support for business, and a limited federal government that favors more state-based regulations are peppered throughout the 2016 Republican Party platform. Here is how these segments react to climate change. First, the military’s response to climate change: as a part of its readiness program, the Department of Defense (DoD) prepared a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, where it states “among the future trends that will impact our national security is climate change.” This document then describes adaptation strategies that are reminiscent of the ones required by the Paris Agreement Article 7.

The business community — specifically big business — urged the president to keep the US in the Paris Agreement. The CEOs of Exxon Mobil, BP, and Chevron took out an ad in a major U.S. newspaper to declare, “by expanding markets for innovative clean technologies, the agreement generates jobs and economic growth.”

Finally, in the face of President Trump’s decision, state governments have jumped in to mitigate GHG emissions and spur climate change adaptation. The United States Climate Alliance is a consortium of 14 states and Puerto Rico that represents 36% of the US population, $7 trillion of the national GDP, and 1.7 million jobs in green energy. The Alliance has affirmed its commitment to achieve the US’s Paris Agreement pledge. Along with a 14% increase in economic growth, it has already achieved a 15% reduction in GHGs as compared to 2005 levels. It is on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal of 26-28% reduction in GHG emissions by 2025 as compared to 2005.

Nonetheless, we should continue to be disappointed by the announced withdrawal (and thankful for the slow withdrawal procedure detailed in Article 28). The US withdrawal is based on a dangerous idea. This idea depicts climate change policy as a choice between environmental conservation and economic growth or between jobs and regulation. Framing climate change in these terms allows people to think that the issue is a matter of trade-offs. It leads to thinking that, at some point, providing jobs is most important so the environment must take a back seat. However, in reality, climate change is an existential threat and needs to be dealt with.


Trusting Corporations by Weakening Antitrust?

This September, many socially conscious corporations have donated to climate change mitigation and sustainability. Ikea has devoted $44.6 million to the We Mean Business coalition, which began at a UNFCCC Business and Industry Day to provide a platform to “amplify the business voice and catalyze bold climate action.” Mars just pledged $1 billion in investments towards climate change, poverty and scarcity of resources by targeting renewable energy, food sourcing, industry coalitions, and support for farmers. Energy companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric have pledged their support for renewable energy. On a global scale, even supermarkets have collaborated to show their environmentally progressive intent for the future (although they were ultimately shut down because of antitrust and collusion issues). This current corporate support is a good sign for climate change as corporations prove their influence on climate policy.

Corporate Influence and Climate Change

Click on image to see full spectrum of corporate stances on environmental sustainability.

In light of all of this, legal scholar, Inara Scott, asks if U.S. antitrust law makes it “nearly impossible for corporations to collaborate on sustainability initiatives.” Scott asks whether the Sherman act (the original 1890 statute that broke up major U.S. monopolies) is actually a barrier for corporations to act sustainably because it outlaws collusion and collaboration amongst companies. Scott tells a story of Proctor & Gamble and Unilever. In the late 2000s the two companies planned to release a more efficient laundry detergent but were concerned about consumer reactions. So to avoid a price war they agreed to freeze their prices and market share. This violated antitrust laws so when regulators in Europe found out, they fined the companies more than 300 million Euro.

Two brand names tried to work together to fight climate change rather than each other.

Consumer protection was the ideal that spurred current U.S. antitrust law.  Scott invokes consumer to protection to muse that companies should be able to argue that collusion and collaboration is best for long term consumer protection. Scott imagines that long term consumer protection would include sustainability goals that consider the scarcity of resources and is mindful of GHG emissions. Weakening antitrust policy would allow corporations to collaborate and respond to the problems of sustainability, resource depletion, and climate change in a market efficient manner. A particular issue with Scott’s antitrust theory is whether the American courts or legislators could trust corporations enough to allow them the power to collaborate.

Ikea displays their commitment to renewable energy in its stores.

Ikea displays their commitment to renewable energy in its stores.

Scott’s solution is to create a regulatory counsel to analyze cases of collusion for environmental protection. This will alleviate concerns about corporate greed and corruption. There is a lot of distrust amongst American consumers and American corporations. Capitalist ideals often push corporations to strive for the lowest cost with maximum benefit, often forsaking consumers or the environment. But “’sustainability issues are profitability issues so [Scott] think[s] the altruism is [of companies] tied up in the long-term health of these companies.” So between corporate environmental sustainability, corporate collaboration, and government regulation – climate change policy may look more and more like business.