To Tackle Climate Crisis, the World Bank Must Stop Financing Industrial Livestock

  • Opinion by Carolina Galvani, Monique Mikhail (washington dc)
  • Inter Press Service

To address the climate emergency, the World Bank must walk the talk and take action on its own portfolio – which currently has billions invested in livestock production – by halting all financing for the global expansion of factory farming.

First, the climate consequences of industrial livestock are staggering. As the World Bank’s report points out, the global agrifood system accounts for approximately one-third of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and industrial livestock production accounts for the lion’s share of these.

Research has shown that livestock production alone will consume nearly half of the world’s 1.5°C emissions budget by 2030 and a staggering 80% by 2050. The World Bank’s report aptly states that “the system that feeds us is also feeding the planet’s climate crisis.”

The World Bank cannot effectively tackle the climate crisis without a significant shift in lending away from high-polluting industrial livestock and toward a more sustainable food system.

Second, the World Bank’s continued financing for industrial livestock starkly contradicts its own commitments, spanning from the Paris Agreement targets to the Sustainable Development Goals to the Bank’s biodiversity policies, and even its own mission statement.

The World Bank itself says that "the world cannot achieve the Paris Agreement targets without achieving net zero emissions in the agrifood system." Yet, the Bank continues to finance the expansion of industrial livestock – putting the Bank’s financing at odds with its commitment to align its strategies, activities, and investments with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.

The Bank’s financial support for industrial livestock goes against other obligations as well, including the Bank’s commitment to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A 2019 report from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development highlights the adverse human health and environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, including livestock and feed production, and the ways in which it undermines several SDGs, including poverty eradication (1), zero hunger (2), good health (3), clean water (6), decent work (8), responsible consumption and production (12), and climate action (13).

Adding to this, despite the World Bank’s claim that it is “putting nature at the core of development efforts”, the Bank is continuing to undermine biodiversity by supporting the expansion of industrial livestock production when this sector, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is the primary threat to over 85% of the 28,000 species at risk of extinction.

Beyond global commitments, financing industrial livestock is also at odds with the World Bank’s own mission statement. World Bank President Ajay Banga took the reins at the World Bank a year ago with a mandate to help countries mitigate the climate crisis.

As part of that mandate, the World Bank updated its mission statement, stating it will work “to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity on a livable planet.” To achieve this mission, the World Bank must reassess its investments and immediately cease financing the expansion of industrial livestock.

Finally, like all development institutions, the World Bank has limited resources and must carefully choose the best projects to achieve its overall mission. In practice, this means that every dollar spent on industrial livestock is a dollar not invested in what the World Bank itself has acknowledged is the necessary just transition to a sustainable agrifood system. The Bank must redirect its support toward transitioning to a just and sustainable global food system.

As the Bank rightly points out in its recent report, “he world has avoided confronting agrifood system emissions for as long as it could because of the scope and complexity of the task…now is the time to put agriculture and food at the top of the mitigation agenda. If not, the world will be unable to ensure a livable planet for future generations.”

It’s past time for the Bank to heed its own warning.

The World Bank must immediately cease its support for industrial livestock — a primary driver of climate change, biodiversity loss, public health crises, and food insecurity — and direct the Bank’s resources and considerable influence toward reforming and reshaping agriculture and food systems.

Our future on a livable planet depends on it.

Carolina Galvani is the executive director of Sinergia Animal, an international animal protection organization working in the Global South to end the worst practices of industrial animal agriculture. Monique Mikhail is the Agriculture and Climate Finance Campaigns Director at Friends of the Earth U.S. Sinergia Animal and Friends of the Earth are members of the Stop Financing Factory Farming coalition.

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