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Banner for the "Setting the table for COP27" event series with images of cows in fields in a film strip on a wooden table background.

Setting the TABLE for COP27 - Upcoming Events!

TABLE will be hosting a series of 3 events this autumn leading up to COP27:

  • What role for grazing ruminants in a 1.5°C world? on September 14 at 6pm BST
  • Does methane from livestock matter? on September 28 at 5:30pm BST
  • Plating up the future of meat (date TBC)

Please join us as we explore questions regarding the evidence and values behind debates over livestock and climate change.

Banner for the "Setting the table for COP27" event series with images of cows in fields in a film strip on a wooden table background.

Background

The climate and environmental impacts of livestock agriculture are some of the most complex and polarised topics in global climate policy debates. Recent IPCC reports and the launch of the Global Methane Pledge at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), an annual meeting of global leaders to discuss climate change,  have moved the issue of livestock to centre stage. Yet the scientific evidence of livestock’s contribution to climate and environmental change is deeply contested.  The future of livestock in the Anthropocene also raises difficult moral and political questions regarding how we farm, what we eat, and who wins and who loses as a result of the decisions made regarding various climate mitigation strategies. It is anticipated that many of these issues will be relevant for COP27 in November 2022.

Please join TABLE for our “Preparing for COP27” event series this autumn to explore questions regarding the evidence and values behind debates over livestock and climate change. This series is aimed at:

  • Food systems practitioners with an interest in COP27.
  • Policy makers wanting accessible and informative background information about GHG emissions and methane, current livestock debates, soils and carbon sequestration, and future scenarios.
  • Journalists who will be covering COP27 and/or food-related briefs.
  • Researchers working in the field.
  • Students and anyone else who is interested in learning more about these topics.

Bringing together leading thinkers and researchers focused on climate, agriculture, and food systems, TABLE director Dr Tara Garnett will chair three panel discussions focused on key issues in the livestock debates: regenerative grazing, agricultural methane, and the future of meat. Descriptions of the three events and featured panellists and event registration details are included below. You will have the chance to submit questions throughout each event, and each discussion will be followed by an audience question-and-answer session. 
 

The Events

In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, we not only need to bring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions down as close to zero as possible, but also actively take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere. The carbon sequestration potential of land has drawn increasing attention as the need to achieve negative emissions becomes ever more urgent. 

When it comes to agriculture, the role of ruminant livestock (e.g. cattle, sheep, and goats) in sequestering CO2 through grazing on the one hand and in contributing to GHG emissions and other environmental damage on the other have become highly polarised topics of debate. Some argue that well-managed grazing systems can help draw down CO2 from the atmosphere and lock it in soils, while yielding a range of other benefits for water and biodiversity. Others, however, highlight the association between ruminant livestock expansion, deforestation, and soil degradation, with accompanying declines in soil quality, water retention and biodiversity. 

So what does the science actually say? How do the specificities of local context fit into our understanding of global land use interactions and into wider debates about what a good food system looks like? To explore these questions, join TABLE for a panel discussion on 14 September at 6pm BST with leading thinkers and researchers on agriculture, food systems and climate change mitigation.

The speakers:

Three photos of Francesca Cotrufo, Peter Smith, and Matthew Hayek.

M. Francesca Cotrufo is a Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University. Dr Cotrufo is a soil ecologist and biogeochemist, internationally recognized for her work in the field of litter decomposition and soil organic matter dynamics, and in the use of isotopic methodologies in these studies. With Dr Keith Paustian and other colleagues at CSU, she recently formed the Soil Carbon Solution Center. Dr Cotrufo is editor of the journal Global Change Biology. She has been the recipient of the SSSA Soil Science Research Award, the CSU Provost 14’er Award for Faculty Excellence, and the ASA- CSSA-SSSA Mentoring Award. Recently, Dr Cotrufo became an entrepreneur and co-funded, with other five women in her lab, Cquester Analytics, an analytical facility designed to accurately quantify, using science- based approaches, metrics of soil organic matter and C sequestration at scale.

Pete Smith is Professor of Soils and Global Change at the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen and Science Director of the Scottish Climate Change Centre of Expertise (ClimateXChange). His interests include climate change mitigation, soils, agriculture, food systems, ecosystem services and modelling. He has been an author on many reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and led its work of climate change mitigation in agriculture, forestry and land for its 4th and 5th Assessment Reports, and led its work interlinkages between land based mitigation options for the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, a Fellow of the Institute of Soil Scientists, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy, a Fellow of the European Science Academy, and a Fellow of the Royal Society (London).

Matthew Hayek is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University (NYU). He received his PhD in Environmental Science and Engineering from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science. Dr Hayek's research quantifies the environmental impacts of our food system, with a specific focus on greenhouse gas emissions and contributions to climate change. His current project analyzes the land use requirements of food production more broadly, examining regional and global opportunities for reforestation and negative carbon emissions entailed by shifting toward more efficient consumption patterns and production systems. Prior to joining NYU, Dr Hayek was a postdoctoral science and policy researcher at Harvard Law School in the Animal Law and Policy Program.

Methane is an important greenhouse gas (GHG), second only to carbon dioxide (CO2) in its overall contribution to human-driven climate change. It’s also very powerful, with a warming potential around 29 times stronger than CO2 on a molecule-by-molecule basis, and it's almost certain to be a point of conversation at this year's COP27. COP26 saw the launch of the Global Methane Pledge and since then 121 nations have signed up to it, thereby agreeing to reduce their methane emissions by 30% by 2030. With the food system being one the largest anthropogenic source of methane – even more so than oil and gas – efforts to honour this pledge will likely have implications for how agriculture is practised; and potentially for what we eat. 

Ruminant livestock - cattle, sheep and goats - are often acknowledged as major sources of methane emissions via their digestive processes, and this suggests we may need to rethink how we rear these animals, and how much meat and dairy we eat. But not everyone agrees; some argue that methane, with its very short atmospheric lifetime, just isn't as important as getting to net zero as for long-lived GHGs such as carbon dioxide. And not all methane is equally damaging either, since methane generated from cattle and other biogenic sources is part of the short term carbon cycle, unlike methane from oil and gas extraction.   

In short, for some stakeholders, methane matters, and because methane matters, so does ruminant livestock production and reducing associated meat and dairy consumption. But for others, action to reduce methane through measures that focus on ruminants will at best be ineffectual in keeping global temperatures down and at worst, push the urgent need to get CO2 emissions down into the long grass, while also having negative implications for the livestock sector and those who depend upon it for their livelihoods.

The issues are complex and the debates are often heated, bringing to the fore fundamental questions about how we use land, how we should farm, what we should eat, and who wins and loses when it comes to climate mitigation. To explore these questions in more detail, please join TABLE for a panel discussion bringing together key thinkers and researchers working on global climate mitigation and agriculture.

What the future of meat should look like is a deeply personal and contested affair. How much and what types of meat should we eat, and how should the meat we eat be produced?

As one of the primary sources of emissions in our food system, many experts and practitioners agree the production of livestock will have to be rethought in the coming years, but exactly how remains deeply contested. In 2015, Dr Tara Garnett reflected on the potential paths for meat in the think piece Gut feelings and possible tomorrows: (where) does animal farming fit? From different stakeholders’ takes on the solutions to animal farming, the piece spun four futures into scenarios that attempted to unearth the values and assumptions that drive these views and imagine how these visions might evolve.

Inspired by this piece of writing and funded by Formas, TABLE is launching a new podcast project called Meat: The Four Futures.

This new project asks the questions: Does a plant-based meatless future lead to planet-friendly eating or is it going against nature? The alternative "meat" future promises meat without animals - is that a utopian or dystopian vision? Does 'less but better' meat promote a triple-win for animals, people and the planet, or is it actually elitist and unrealistic? And is efficient meat 2.0 the only way to feed the planet and conserve biodiversity or is it the root of society’s problems?

These tradeoffs provide a real framework for conversation about the future. The issues are complex and the debates are often heated, raising questions about how much meat we should consume in the future, how that meat should be produced, and how we’ll achieve that future. 

To explore these questions in more detail, please join TABLE for a panel discussion bringing together four key thinkers and researchers who will each tackle one of the four scenarios identified in Meat: The Four Futures. These panellists will present the evidence they find most convincing for their preferred future, what other future scenarios they agree or disagree with, and how they envision achieving their version of a more sustainable and just food system.

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