It’s no secret that climate change discourse is shrouded in obfuscation, disinformation, greenwashing and lies, both outright and of omission. But a recent leak of a draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released on March 20 has been particularly enlightening when it comes to just how much how delegations negotiate, watered down, and delete scientists’ findings.
Micheal Thomas, who writes the climate newsletter Distilled, outlined the shift in wording driven by Brazil and Argentina, countries with large and influential beef industries. As Thomas points out, the IPCC report’s authors initially recommended a shift to plant-based diets, stating that “plant-based diets can reduce GHG emissions by up to 50% compared to the average emission-intensive Western diet,” according to a draft leaked by Scientist Rebellion.
In the published report, the line was changed to “balanced, sustainable healthy diets acknowledging nutritional needs,” skirting a direct mention of beef and dairy, what a sustainable diet actually looks like, or any reference to the Western and largely wealthy countries that should most urgently start eating less meat.
While Monday’s IPCC report was the result of synthesizing years of research, Brazil and Argentina have been diligently pushing to delete references to “plant-based diets,” meat as a “high-carbon” food, and “Meatless Mondays” for years, according to a previous draft leaked in 2021 and analyzed by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative outlet.
The money and the future at stake
Climate action within the meat and dairy industries faces substantial economic and political headwinds. The global beef industry was estimated at about $400 billion in 2022, and Brazil and Argentina both have long-standing, powerful beef lobbies who have held positions in government and influenced important climate policy.
The meat and dairy industry produces 14.5% (pdf) of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization—more than half of the environmental impact of food production as a whole.
Other revelations from the leak include Norway watering down wording about the urgency to reduce emissions; China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Egypt calling for references to “subsidies” to be deleted; Saudi Arabia pushing to suggest carbon capture and storage as a suitable replacement for using renewable energy; and Switzerland and the US pushing back on a reference to developing countries’ access to climate financing.