cattle in field

Are cows the new coal?

Global production and consumption of meat have grown steadily over the past three decades due to higher levels of affluence globally, with evident negative environmental impacts. 

Currently:

  • Emissions from ruminants account for as much as 30% of global anthropogenic methane emissions;
  • In 2021, the global cattle population exceeded one billion head, with beef being around 22% of meat consumed around the world;
  •   Cattle production is a primary driver of (often illegal) deforestation, particularly in Latin America, resulting in additional greenhouse gas emissions. 

Dramatic emissions reductions are required in many sectors to meet any Net Zero or 2°C targets by 2050. So why invest in sectors, such as livestock, that are major emission sources? Isn’t it deleterious to global environmental goals? Shouldn’t we rather use the same investments to fund the shifting of habits away from eating beef? Aren’t cows the new coal? This paper addresses these fundamental questions and sets out &Green’s rationale for investing in the beef sector.

WHAT’S AT ‘STEAK’? 

Global consumption of meat has more than doubled since 1990, reaching 324 million tons of carcass weight in 2020. Developing countries account for around 80% of this increase. Modest diet changes away from red meat have recently been seen in OECD countries; however, these are outweighed by increasing demand due to population growth and increasing wealth, leading to changes in diet (as has been similarly seen in developed countries before) in the world’s emerging economies. Higher consumption of beef products is mirrored by higher production in the cattle sector, which currently results in significant negative impacts to the environment.

 Cows eat cellulosic grasses that humans cannot digest; the microbes present in cows’ digestive tracts decompose and ferment cellulose, and as a by-product, produce methane (CH4), a powerful greenhouse gas. This enteric fermentation process and the resulting emissions, are the negative climate impact which are most often linked to red meat. What is less well known is that, globally, deforestation caused by cattle production results in approximately three times the emissions that arise from enteric fermentation. 

Indeed, the meat farming model is often inefficient: characterized by low productivity and extensive land use, cattle production is enabled by the low cost of deforesting new land. In the Brazilian Amazon biome, pastureland for livestock makes up nearly 80% of the land that was deforested between 1996 and 2006. And that trend has continued – if not accelerated – since then. Tropical deforestation accounts for around 20% of all global climate-warming emissions, and is disastrous for biodiversity, hydrology, and often for social structures and cohesion, particularly among indigenous peoples. The high levels of greenhouse gases emitted in beef production and the key role that animal agriculture and related land use play in climate change have contributed to the perception that cows have become the ‘new coal’. Although it is easier to just accept the statement, it is flawed.

Cattle graph

WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?

Reducing meat consumption is a self-evident climate mitigation measure. By 2050, global consumption of beef needs to reduce by at least 80% from current levels to be compatible with Net Zero. Some modest shifts away from red meat have occurred, with veganism and vegetarianism having increased significantly in some countries (mainly developed economies). Since 2018, commercially available diversified sources of protein as beef alternatives have rapidly grown though they currently have a near-zero market share, as they are typically more expensive for consumers and/or have preference and taste barriers to uptake. These two trends away from beef are particularly important in developed economies for reducing beef overconsumption. However, there is no evidence that these emerging alternatives have altered beef consumption trends in developing countries or the global trend, and it is unlikely they will have significant impact on emerging economy diets in the short term. Beef demand is forecast to increase at least until 2030, before any (slow) declines, and reductions in beef consumption are unlikely to be sufficiently rapid in this critical decade and will remain challenging in the next 30 years. It is the differences in the demand side that makes the cows vs. coal a false comparison. As long as people have access to energy, warmth, and light, they will likely not be concerned with coal being phased out and replaced by more sustainable energy sources. If people do care, they will be happy to know their energy comes from alternative, more sustainable sources. But meat is culturally prized and not directly

replaceable by other products; changing the world’s eating habits will be hard and will take a long time because people care about what they consume. Strictly relying on demand side measures will not be enough to decrease beef-related emissions and deforestation fast enough.

It appears clear that advocating and hoping for changes in consumer sentiment is not an effective mitigation strategy in the near term. If we recognize this, what else can we do?

We must reduce emissions from the sector as far and as fast as possible, while continuing to push and wait for demand side reductions to take hold over time. The beef farming model needs to be transformed at scale…and now. Stopping cattle-driven deforestation and improving efficiency in production can achieve up to 80% reduction in tCO2e per kg of beef consumed, while also having the benefits of forest protection (i.e. biodiversity, CO2 sequestration), employment, and professionalization of the sector. The Glasgow Declaration on Forests and Land Use issued during COP26 has again reminded the world of the urgent need to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, if we are to reach climate goals. Investing in intensification and higher productivity in the beef sector can meet the short-medium term demand growth from the same amount of land, avoiding the need for deforestation. Working with the cattle sector through systemic interventions in the beef sector can rapidly reduce deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, while offering an attractive commercial opportunity for the sector.

meat consumption graph

TAKING ACTION

&Green generates impact in landscapes where valuable ecosystems require active protection and/or restoration, but where competing forces, specifically from agricultural production, frustrate the required actions. Following its fundamental mandate to de-link deforestation from agri-commodity production, &Green seeks to transform the cattle industry by building accountability through traceability, public commitments, and providing proof points of actual on-the-ground implementation of a higher productivity and deforestation-free approach.

&Green’s investments in beef production limit emissions in two ways: by changing the way land is used (intensification over extensification and deforestation) and the way meat is produced (efficiency over low productivity). By requiring that meatpackers and their supply chains do not deforest new land, &Green makes cattle grazing on recently deforested land less viable for farmers, supporting governments’ increasing regulations and enforcement of forest protection. Steering production away from deforestation and towards more sustainable practices de-

creases pressure on remaining natural ecosystems, and frees up land for other purposes, including forest and other ecosystem restoration. More efficient livestock farming can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while boosting soil health and farmer incomes. Global red meat consumption must eventually decrease substantially to align with 2°C targets. However, demand continues to rise, and reductions in the global appetite for beef will take time. Time that the climate and biodiversity of our planet cannot afford. Engagement is needed from all stakeholders on both the demand and the supply side of the meat value chain. By working with the beef sector, large-scale and near-term emissions reductions can be achieved through halting deforestation and higher efficiency of production. This is something the financial sector can directly contribute to. &Green has already invested nearly USD 50 million into the sector in recent years and plans to increase that further to support this transition. A deforestation-free, more sustainable cattle sector by 2030 is an essential part of the climate transition and &Green aims to play a role in achieving this.

1Methane is 28-34 times as potent as CO2 on a 100 year time horizon.

2 ‘Cows are the new coal’: FAIRR and Ban Ki-moon urge G20 leaders to act on agricultural emissions – Food Navigator

3 Pigs and chickens (2019) – Department of Agriculture and Water Resources; Red meat consumption declines in several EU countries – Euromeatnews.com

4 The Rise of Vegan and Vegetarian Food – Euromonitor.com, • Share of vegans worldwide by select country 2021 – Statissta

5 Meat substitutes include plant based meat substitutes; proteins from insects, algae and worms; and proteins grown in the laboratory or “clean meat”; Global: meat substitute consumption 2013-2026 – Statista

6 Reflecting global emissions profiles, where developing country emissions are expected to continue to increase into the 2030s, before declining (the so-called ‘overshoot’).

Sara Senouci

Sara Senouci recently joined SAIL Investments as a Sustainability Analyst, boasting a background in financial services and ESG risk assessment. Prior to joining SAIL, she served as a research analyst at Sustainalytics-Morningstar, focusing on companies within the packaged foods, agriculture, and retail apparel sectors. Sara’s academic credentials include an MA in African Studies from Leiden University and a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Al Akhawayn University in Morocco. Additionally, she possesses a certificate in ESG investing from the CFA Institute.

When she is not working, Sara enjoys traveling, literature and good food.

Lucian Peppelenbos

Lucian Peppelenbos is an external and independent member of SAIL’s Investment Committee, bringing in over 25 years of experience as a sustainability professional. He works for Robeco as Climate and Biodiversity Strategist. Robeco is an international asset manager with over EUR 180 billion in assets under management; and Lucian overseeing the integration of Climate and Biodiversity in the company’s investment processes. Lucian previously worked as responsible investment specialist at APG Asset Management. Before that he helped to set up IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, a public-private partnership that co-invests with corporates in sustainable commodity supply chains. He earned a PhD in social-economic sciences at Wageningen University.

 

In his free time, Lucian loves cooking and spending time in nature.

David Smart

David Smart serves as a Senior Adviser to SAIL and is a member of the SAIL investment Committee. He has 42 years experience as an investor with a particular focus on fixed income and emerging markets. He has however covered a wide array of asset classes including private equity, debt and venture capital and, in the last 8 years, impact. David spent most of his career at Fiduciary Trust and Franklin Templeton where he enjoyed a 28 year year global advisory relationship with the United Nations Pension Fund and worked with many of the top Sovereign Funds and Central Banks. He now has multiple non executive and advisory roles and chairs the Investment Committee for the Health Foundation endowment fund, having spent 9 years in a similar role for the National Trust, Europe’s largest conservation charity, where he oversaw the introduction of an allocation to an impact portfolio aligned with the Trust’s main environmental objectives. He received an MA in Classics from Cambridge University. 

David greatly enjoys playing the piano, antiquarian books, tennis, cricket and rugby.

Istvan Fritsche

Istvan Fritsche is the Head of Business Development at SAIL Investments. He brings 24 years of expertise in asset management and banking across public and private markets that covered various asset classes. Istvan`s career includes roles at Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan AM, BlueBay AM, ING IM, IKB (AM), and RiverRock ECP. Transitioning from investment banking to the buy-side in 2004, and later to private markets in 2013 where Istvan found his enduring passion. Istvan’s academic background is diverse, with studies in Politics (International Relations), Economics, Philosophy, and Art History at Frankfurt University. Istvan is a CAIA Charterholder.

Outside the office, Istvan leads an active lifestyle as a runner, swimmer, squash and tennis player, and sailor.

O'Neil Thiart

O’Neil Thiart is an Investment Analyst with the Investment team at SAIL Investments. His background includes a role as a listed equity analyst for a buy-side investment manager in South Africa, where he analyzed a wide array of equities on the JSE. O’Neil holds a BCom Hons in Financial Analysis from the University of Stellenbosch, graduating Cum Laude in 2021. He has also completed all three levels of the CFA program, positioning him to become a CFA charterholder once he meets the experience requirements.

O’Neil loves to swap his desk chair for a bike saddle, though his physique hints he’s more of an enthusiast than Tour de France contender.

Martyna Walkiewicz-Killard

Martyna Walkiewicz-Killard is a Senior Associate in the SAIL Investments Operations Team. She contributes through a decade of specialized legal and compliance expertise, particularly in investments, corporate law, criminal law, and M&A. Her career includes key roles at TMF, overseeing legal and compliance, and as a Legal Manager at Finch Capital in Amsterdam where she managed all legal affairs. She started her career at Beauchamps LLP in Ireland, managing the investment portfolio for Enterprise Ireland. Martyna earned a MSc in Criminology and Forensic Psychology and a BA with Honours in Criminology from Middlesex University in London.

Away from work, Martyna pursues painting, poetry, and philosophy. She enjoys working out and cooking.

Marthe Tollenaar

Marthe Tollenaar is the Associate Director in the Sustainability team at SAIL Investments, with more than 14 years of experience in managing sustainable forestry and agriculture investments in emerging markets. She led the sustainable strategy for Southeast Asia at New Forests in Singapore, and later managed international projects in The Netherlands for a carbon finance organization and began her career managing sustainable forestry in Africa. She holds an MSc in Ecology and Natural Resource Management and a BSc in Biology.

Marthe is an avid runner and yoga enthusiast, and the team’s dedicated supplier of home-baked banana bread.

Michael Schlup

Michael Schlup is the Chief Sustainability Officer of SAIL Investments, and a member of SAIL’s investment committee. He is a sustainability professional with over 25 years of experience, having previously worked for Barry Callebaut, the world’s leading manufacturer of chocolate and cocoa products including managing the Cocoa Horizons Foundation. As global agribusiness and food company Bunge, he oversaw Africa for their asset management and environmental markets team. He was the founding CEO of the Gold Standard Foundation, an NGO that established quantification and impact maximisation standards. Michael’s career began by advancing sustainable energy financing at the United Nations and working as a management consultant. Michael is a trained scientist and holds a M.Sc. in Geography from the University of Basel, Switzerland, and a M.Sc. in Industrial Environmental Economics from Lund University, Sweden.

A keen sailor and cyclist, Michael balances these exhausting activities by making his own beer, bread, and sausages.

Andrea Salmon

Andrea Salmon is the Business Manager at SAIL Investments. She oversees office management, HR, and projects that draw on over 11 years of operational and administrative experience in small to corporate-sized businesses. Andrea’s career began in Dubai, and she has since gained international experience in Hamburg, Cape Town, and currently in The Hague. She graduated from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, with a BA in Social Dynamics and a Postgraduate degree in Marketing.

Outside of work, Andrea enjoys hiking and cycling in the great outdoors, as well as traveling and practicing yoga.

Laura Rodriguez

Laura Rodriguez is an Associate in Business Development at SAIL. Specializing in Investor Relations, she has a focus on corporate sustainability and sustainable finance. Bringing over four years of experience to her role, Laura transitioned to SAIL from Sustainalytics, where she played a key role in aiding corporates and investors integrate strategic ESG considerations into their operations. Her background also includes involvement in sustainable initiatives at Ahold Delhaize and BAM International. Laura’s career started in architecture, where she spent over three years designing residential projects in Colombia. She holds a Master’s in Sustainable Business and Innovation from the University of Utrecht and a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the University of Los Andes in Colombia.

In her leisure time, Laura bakes delicious cakes and keeps active playing tennis.

Erik Peek

Erik Peek is an Investment Director directing origination, deal structuring, and management. Erik’s 30 years of deep experience in financial markets, particularly in Latin America where he is also certified by Brazil’s CVM, has helped him play a pivotal role since Sail’s inception. As the former CEO of Rabobank Brazil, Erik bolstered the agricultural sector by managing assets of $10 billion and his leadership extended to serving on boards like Banco Regional and the Forest Stewardship Council, and credit committees. Erik holds an MSc from Karlsruhe University and an MBA from IMD.

Off the clock, Erik is married and takes pride that his independent children are now making their own societal contributions.

Natalia Pasishnyk

Natalia Pasishnyk is the Sustainability Director at SAIL Investments with 18 years of sustainability experience. She has worked in Brazil as a consultant, supporting major corporations across a wide range of sectors including agriculture, forestry, mining, renewable energy, finance, and governmental bodies build responsible low carbon strategies and supply chains. Her sustainability focus began with climate mitigation projects in the Brazilian Amazon. Natalia, a trained scientist, earned her M.Sc. in Sustainable Forestry from the University of Freiburg, Germany.

Beyond work, Natalia enjoys travelling off-the-beaten-path, discovering cultures through cuisine and customs, and has a keen interest in artificial intelligence.

Elea Papaemmanuel

Elea Papaemmanuel is an Associate Director on the SAIL Investments Sustainability Team. Her specialization in sustainability is supported by a decade of supply chain management and sustainability risk expertise across agri-commodity and extractive sectors. Elea has also collaborated with diverse stakeholders, including NGOs and corporates, to foster the adoption of sustainability standards. In her previous role at IDH, she focused on sustainable practices in the cotton, cocoa, and tin mining industries. Elea earned an M.Sc in Public Policy and Management from the London School of Economics and a B.Sc in Economics from the University of Essex.

Elea loves to bring people together through her culinary talents, hosting meals seasoned by her French and Greek roots.

Gustavo Oubinha

Gustavo Oubinha is the Brazil Investment Director at SAIL Investments. Gustavo leads origination, deal structuring, and portfolio management, leveraging 25 years of financial market expertise. Certified by Brazil’s CVM, he previously enhanced Rabobank Brazil’s strategic initiatives as Managing Director, focusing on credit structuring and M&A, and has experience in complex investment transactions through his work at Banco InterAtlântico and Machado Meyer Advogados. Gustavo holds an LL.M. from the University of East Anglia as a Chevening Scholar. His further education in economics law from Fundação Getúlio Vargas is complemented by programs at Harvard, INSEAD, and Chicago Booth.

Off duty, Gustavo values family time, enjoying moments with his wife and two children.

Brett Mallen

Brett Mallen is the Chief Operating Officer at SAIL Investments and spearheads its financial, legal, and compliance capabilities. With over 20 years in investment management, he notably led as COO, and acting CEO, at Sanlam Africa Investments, focusing on private market funds and board leadership. Previously, he worked in Sanlam’s Private Equity team. Brett is admitted as an attorney in South Africa, holding an LL.M (Cum Laude) from Leiden University and a CFA Charter.

Brett prioritises family and fitness outside of the office. He spends his spare time on active holidays with his wife and two children (skiing being a firm favourite). Brett has recently discovered the 70.3 Ironman events and has competed in one event per year.

Adrian Lain

Adrian Lain is a Senior Sustainability Associate at SAIL Investments specialising in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). He brings with him 11 years of international experience in research, certifications, and geospatial analysis in public and private environments, which builds on his career start as a research technician in the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute.

During off-hours, Adrian explores the world through music and aviation.

Joachim Kotze

Joachim Kotze is an Associate Director and a member of the Investment Team at SAIL Investments. His role is backed by 12 years of experience in the investment field with career positions at Denker Capital and Rootstock Investments, and respected asset managers in South Africa. At these firms, Joachim spurred research on internationally publicly listed companies, focusing on diverse industries such as agriculture and food value chains. His tenure at Rootstock was marked by his contribution to formalizing the investment process and his active role on the investment committee.

Before SAIL Investments, Joachim was engaged in equity research at Morningstar covering the global Aerospace and Defense sectors. Joachim earned a B.Comm in Financial Management and is a CFA charterholder.

Beyond professional pursuits, Joachim can be found outdoors mountain biking and taking bracing cold water swims. He also loves to cook.

Vidya Iyer

Vidya Iyer is an Associate Director in the Investment team. She is responsible for investment research and analysis, transaction structuring and execution, leveraging her 11 years of experience in venture capital investments, corporate finance and equities investment valuation. Vidya started her career with Goldman Sachs as an analyst and spent time with J.P.Morgan. She has a Bachelor’s of Commerce from the University of Madras, is a Chartered Accountant from India and holds a M.Sc. in International Finance from the University of Amsterdam.

In her leisure time, Vidya enjoys exploring the Dutch landscape on her bike or in running shoes.

Johnny Brom

Johnny Brom is founder and Chief Investment Officer of SAIL Investments, where he also leads the Investment Committee. Johnny has a diverse background in business development and investment strategy for companies across South Africa, North America, and Europe. He started his career at JP Morgan Securities and held a role at a Cape Town-based boutique asset manager, accumulating over 17 years of investment experience in developed, emerging, and frontier markets. Prior to SAIL, Johnny initiated an innovative financing unit at the Dutch agency, IDH, pioneering early blended finance transactions in global supply chains. Johnny holds a Master’s in Finance from SOAS University of London, a PE specialisation from London Business School, and a Business Science degree from the University of Cape Town.

Johnny is known for his love of whiteboards, and sketching in his journal.