Investors are calling for a greater focus on food and agriculture at the upcoming COP28 climate summit after research found greenhouse gas emissions generated by the largest meat and dairy producers rose during the past year.
Analysis of emissions data from 20 of the largest listed meat and dairy firms by the $70trn (£56trn)-backed Fairr investor network showed that disclosed emissions rose by 3.3% between 2022 and 2023.
The group of 20 includes firms like US-based Hormel Foods and China’s New Hope Liuhe, which supply household names brands such as Walmart and McDonald’s respectively.
Some of the 20 firms delivered a fall in emissions, including Tyson Foods and Danone, but Fairr said progress was negated by rises from other meat and dairy giants.
The analysis formed part of the sixth edition of the Fairr protein producer index. In total 4 of the 20 firms have set net-zero targets approved by the Science-based targets initiative (SBTi), while eight companies now publicly report scope 3 emissions. Three producers still offer no emissions disclosure at all.
The index highlighted examples of good practice in the sector including Danone, which is among the first companies to have set Flag (forest, land and agriculture) targets aligned with the SBTi, and has committed to a 30% reduction in its methane emissions from fresh milk by 2030.
Adoption of regenerative agricultural practices can help mitigate emissions, according to Fairr, however its own analysis has criticised a lack of formal targets, leading to a disconnect between company ambition and implementation of regenerative agriculture practices.
“The failure of leading meat and dairy companies to reduce emissions underlines the urgent need for more policy focus on the food and agriculture sector,” said Jeremy Coller, chair and founder of the Fairr network. “Investors hope the first-ever publication of a food and agriculture roadmap at COP28 this month will catalyse the transition to 1.5 degrees and a more sustainable food system.”
Overall, the index assessed a total of 60 publicly-listed animal protein producers worth a combined $364bn against ten environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related factors. The largest improvements were seen in alternative proteins, waste and pollution and water use.