Two key climate experts are calling for the retraction of a UN report released at COP28 on greenhouse emissions from animal agriculture, claiming that it “seriously distorted” their work when citing them making it look like the effects were smaller than the experts found. Paul Behrens, an associate professor at Leiden University and Matthew Hayek, an assistant professor at New York University, both accuse the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study of systematic errors, poor framing, and highly inappropriate use of source data.

Hayek told the Guardian: “The FAO’s errors were multiple, egregious, conceptual and all had the consequence of reducing the emissions mitigation possibilities from dietary change far below what they should be. None of the mistakes had the opposite effect… The scientific consensus at the moment is that dietary shifts are the biggest leverage we have to reduce emissions and other damage caused by our food system, but the FAO chose the roughest and most inappropriate approach to their estimates and framed it in a way that was very useful for interest groups seeking to show that plant-based diets have a small mitigation potential compared to alternatives.”  Hayek said the FAO inappropriately cited a report he co-authored that measured all agri-food emissions and applied it to animal agriculture emissions alone.

In a March 2024 report titled “Options for a Paris-Compliant Livestock Sector”, Behrens and Hayek say that 78% of more than 200 scientists said it was important for animal herd sizes to peak by 2025 if the world was to stand a chance of preventing dangerous global heating. The experts said the FAO report “systematically underestimates” the emissions-cutting potential of dietary shifts through a “series of methodological errors”, which include double-counting meat emissions until 2050, mixing different baseline years in analyses, and channelling data inputs that inappropriately favour diets allowing increased global meat consumption. 

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.