COP27 Climate Summit

Activists listen to a demonstration at dusk at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit on Friday, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Peter Dejong/Associated Press

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — The meat at the center of a meticulously plated meal served recently at the Four Seasons resort here isn’t available for sale right now outside of Singapore. But the company serving it vows it will soon help save the planet.

It was raised not on a farm but in a lab. It tastes exactly like chicken, but no chicken’s life was taken to serve it up as crispy skins, spicy skewers and a grilled boneless thigh – just a chicken cell, grown into food in a very expensive, very sterile factory. Soon there will be beef, pork and fish, too, in this quest to mass-produce edible flesh without cruelty or climate chaos.

“If we really want to stop climate change, we have to stop the farming of animals,” said Josh Tetrick, host of the dinner and chief executive of the “slaughter-free” Bay Area meat company Good Meat. Of the lab-grown meat, he said, “This lets us enjoy real meat without the issues.”

It was just one solution for reducing the food industry’s immense carbon footprint being promoted this week at the U.N. Climate Change Conference here, known as COP27. Also showcased at the summit were a push for new kinds of sustainable, plant-based meat and developments in a large gene bank focused on climate-resilient seeds.

The innovators, venture capitalists and politicians promising climate salvation in the form of technology are confronting exasperation from poorer, rural countries already ravaged by global warming. The nations have demanded more focus on repairing cropland damaged by wealthy nations addicted to fossil fuels and less on investments such as methane-capturing dairy digesters and carbon trading plans.

But any robust discussion about food systems is notable at an annual summit that has long neglected the outsize role they play in propelling climate change and the extent to which warming is increasingly threatening the world’s ability to feed itself.


“No one is more vulnerable to climate change than the world’s farmers, and I firmly believe no one can do more about it in a shorter space of time than the world’s farmers can,” said Theo de Jager, a macadamia-nut farmer in South Africa and the former head of the World Farmers’ Organization. “How could anyone have ever considered not talking about it?”

This is 12th time de Jager has attended a U.N. climate summit. It was not until this year that the organizers put food and agriculture on the agenda in a big way, dedicating an entire day to it, with companies and governments rolling out more funding to help farmers and others in the food supply chain become more resilient to climate change.

It is still slow going. Diplomats are struggling to find solutions that can be equitably and quickly deployed in one of the most complicated and diffuse sectors of the global economy. De Jager has low expectations for any landmark breakthroughs at the negotiating table, where diplomats are stymied by the immensity of the problem.

Even the relatively meager $100 billion per year that wealthy nations previously promised the developing world to help with recovery from extreme weather events has yet to be delivered, while drought and flooding are ravaging crops.

“The choice is between adapting or starving,” Dina Saleh, a regional director for the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development, said at a news conference where she called on wealthy nations to honor their $100 billion pledge.

The United States and other wealthy nations instead focused their food efforts on a joint push with the private sector that they insist will create incentives for more climate-friendly agriculture and help the world’s 600 million small-share farmers adapt and thrive. There are a number of nonprofit organizations involved, but the imprint of industrial agriculture is unmistakable. Among the partners in the program are ADM, Land O’Lakes and McDonald’s.


COP27 Climate Summit

Wael Aboulmagd, special representative of COP presidency, left, listens with Sameh Shoukry, president of the COP27 climate summit, at the summit on Friday, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Nariman El-Mofty/Associated Press

These corporate collaborations are not embraced warmly across the agricultural community. The small-farms advocacy group A Growing Culture speaks for a number of international advocacy groups in charging that such collaborations are designed to “enable the biggest polluters to position themselves as climate saviors, while promoting a newer version of harmful practices, and profiting from these technologies along the way.”

But the coalition behind the push promises that as the technologies trickle down, they could be transformative for even the smallest farms in the most impoverished places.

“The pace needs to accelerate, because our time to reduce the warming of the globe is shrinking,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The struggles of farmers hardly seemed connected to the scene at the Sharm el-Sheikh Four Seasons, where a clarinetist performed a private concert inspired by the sounds of sea creatures as a small group of journalists, entrepreneurs and foundation officials dined poolside on three elegant courses of synthetic chicken.

Tetrick argued it is all connected. His pitch: If synthetic meat can be made affordably and in mass quantities, the implications for nourishing the world and curbing climate change are considerable. Raising and feeding farm animals consumes two-thirds of the world’s agricultural land and drives 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Transitioning that land to more-sustainable uses is impossible as meat consumption soars. Tetrick, a vegan, said he would be fine with the world cutting meat from their diets. But he doesn’t see that happening.

“People are pretty imperfect,” he said. “You’ve got to meet them where they are.”

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