Are Meat And Dairy Companies Setting Climate Goals Effectively?
From animal and land management to land-use change and energy consumption, the animal agriculture industry is a key greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter in every stage of the supply chain. However, even as experts anticipate global animal product consumption to rise in the next 30 years, most meat and dairy companies have been slow to mitigate their environmental impact. What’s more, these companies often shape climate change reporting within their industry and take part in political action to undermine the climate change movement.
Assigning responsibility for climate mitigation isn’t an easy task. For example, previous climate scholars have argued in favor of placing the onus on individuals, countries, or the corporations responsible for the majority of emissions. The 2015 Paris Agreement is one example of an effort to combat climate change on an international scale by assigning climate goals by country. As part of the Agreement, member countries outline actions they will take to reach their stated targets. However, most countries will only be successful if their largest GHG-emitting industries take responsibility for reducing their impact.
In an effort to examine the animal agriculture industry’s climate change responsibilities, a team of researchers looked at the 35 largest global meat and dairy companies in terms of the following: (1) their emissions reporting standards, (2) their emissions in context to the countries they’re headquartered in, and (3) how the top 10 largest U.S. companies impact climate change politics.
First, the researchers looked at each company’s annual reports, available sustainability reports, and other public materials to gain some indication of their climate reporting. In general, they found inconsistencies in the way emissions are reported. For example, ABP and Fronterra focus on mitigating carbon while excluding the two GHGs more frequently emitted in animal agriculture, methane and nitrous oxide. Similarly, JBS, the largest meat and dairy company in the world, claims they have no responsibility for “indirect” emissions, such as transportation and waste decomposition on third-party properties. Finally, the authors note that only four companies — Danone, Dairy Farmers of America, Danish Crown, and Nestlé — have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Next, the authors examined the meat and dairy companies’ emissions in relation to the 16 countries they’re headquartered in, and how much of each country’s Paris Agreement climate targets will be “used up” by the meat and dairy companies if they continue operating per usual. They found that 27 out of the 35 companies are not projected to exceed 10% of their countries’ climate targets under the Paris Agreement, especially those in high-emitting countries like the U.S. For example, the 9 U.S. companies included in the study would make up 9% of the country’s climate budget in 2025 if they continue operating as usual, and if the U.S. complies with the Paris Agreement. However, if Fronterra in New Zealand and Nestlé in Switzerland continue operating at their usual rate, they will each exceed 100% of their countries’ climate targets.
It’s important to note that a company’s emissions aren’t automatically assigned to its headquarter country. Many companies have international outposts and emit most of their GHGs outside of their home country. Furthermore, only 7 of the 16 countries in the study made reference to the direct and indirect impacts of animal agriculture in their Paris Agreement goals. New Zealand and Switzerland don’t mention animal agriculture or “livestock” at all.
Finally, the researchers honed in on the top 10 meat and dairy companies in the U.S. to learn how they’re influencing political and public opinion on climate change issues. They found that all 10 companies have lacked transparency around their GHG emissions and mitigation goals. For example, only 7 companies listed mitigation targets at all. Each of the 10 companies has also contributed to research that minimizes the link between climate change and animal agriculture. They spent a combined $109 million on lobbying activities related to climate change and the environment since 2000, while the six largest trade associations have spent a collective $200 million. Finally, the 10 companies spent a combined $26 million on political campaigns over the last two decades.
The results from this review suggest that, even though some companies are taking baby steps to fulfill their minimal duties, most are neglecting to take full, if any, responsibility to mitigate their climate impact. As the world continues to grapple with climate change, advocates must continue holding meat and dairy companies accountable for their role in harming our environment.