For the first time ever, the world’s largest climate conference will address food systems and their impact on the climate crisis. As an organization focused on reducing animal suffering, last year, we urged world leaders to take meaningful action on the animal agriculture sector, and we are pleased to see that food and agriculture will now be a part of the conversation at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties, known as COP27, taking place from Nov. 6 to 18 in Egypt. What remains to be seen is if member states will prioritize and seek real solutions to animal agriculture’s climate impacts in formal climate negotiations, or if this sector will continue to be the “cow in the room.”

Even though the animal agriculture industry—including cow, pig, chicken, egg and dairy—is responsible for at least 16.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions globally, world leaders have shown hardly any ambition in addressing it.

Changing our food system is one of the key solutions to the climate crisis, and this change can come in many forms: We need policies that support a more resilient, plant-centric global food system with concrete measures for supporting diet change. That includes a shift in how governments spend funds (known as public procurement) related to feeding people; shifting diets to healthier, plant-rich models; supporting farmers in transitioning to more sustainable, plant-based agriculture; and fostering innovation and growth in the protein landscape.

Around the world, we are demonstrating that public procurement shifts can be implemented successfully at scale—a boon for animals and human health as well as the health of the planet. Over the course of 2022, HSI, together with Mercy for Animals Brazil, has fully implemented commitments from four Brazilian municipalities to transition 20% of all meals served in municipal schools to plant-based food. These commitments will result in more than 13,620,000 plates transitioning from animal-based to purely plant-based every year.

Research has shown that shifting to plant-based eating habits can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of our food system by 49%, reduce food’s land use by 76% and reduce freshwater use by 19%. We also estimate that, for every 1,000 meals converted to plant-based, approximately 30 animal lives are saved.

Experts from HSI will attend the conference and co-host three events at the Food4Climate Pavilion, led by ProVeg International. We hope to convey the message to world leaders that, if they are serious about meeting the Paris Agreement targets, a meaningful shift toward plant-rich food production and consumption needs to be recognized and included in our global climate mitigation strategies. Therefore, a food system transformation, specifically a just transition from animal protein toward more plant proteins, must be featured front and center in upcoming negotiations.

This is a vital opportunity for world leaders to make meaningful commitments to tackle climate change, restore biodiversity and create a more humane world by reducing the number of animals suffering on factory farms—and we’ll work tirelessly to ensure that this opportunity is seized.

Learn more about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.