Recipe for a livable planet: opportunities for cellular agriculture’s ESG measurement and reporting

We delve into how The World Bank's recent report presents a key opportunity for ESG measurement & reporting for cellular agriculture.
The World Bank

What is the recipe for a livable planet - one that operates within planetary boundaries and adheres to the 1.5-degree limit on warming set out in the Paris Agreement? 

This is the question The World Bank sought to answer in its recent report titled “Recipe for a Liveable Planet”. The landmark report highlights the role of agrifood systems in driving global climate emissions and provides a first global strategic framework for mitigating agrifood’s contributions to climate change. 

You can read the full report here

The report aims to prompt public discussion and inform policies for climate mitigation, flagging that the global agrifood system presents a huge opportunity to cut almost one-third of the world’s GHG emissions through affordable and readily available actions.

A promising shift toward an agrifood-centric global climate mitigation strategy

The World Bank asserts the need to transform agrifood systems if we are to meet our global climate targets, stating “We are faced with a startling and largely misunderstood reality: the system that feeds us is also feeding the planet’s climate crisis…with current emissions trends of the agrifood sector, the goals of the Paris Agreement ‘become impossible.’”

The message is strikingly clear: we cannot adequately mitigate the effects of climate change without transforming the way we produce and consume food.

It is promising to see such an influential organisation drawing attention to agrifood systems as an urgent climate priority, and significant acknowledgement to how severely underfunded this area has been to date. 

The World Bank, Recipe for a Livable Planet, 2024
Why is The World Bank relevant?

The World Bank is an international funding organisation owned by 187 countries, and a very significant international funding body. Its overarching objective is to reduce poverty by lending money to low-income countries to improve economic stability and living standards. Addressing climate change and meeting the targets set out in the Paris Agreement are a key priority for the organisation, with the World Bank being the largest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing nations.

Such credentials rightly position The World Bank to speak with authority on climate change mitigation and with the power to influence flows of climate investment and propose policy mechanisms that may be adopted across the globe. 

The World Bank, Recipe for Livable Planet, 2024
Key implications for alternative proteins and cellular agriculture

It is validating to see The World Bank recognise the growing environmental concerns arising from the consumption of animal-sourced foods, particularly red meat and dairy and suggesting that “high-income countries should decrease their consumer demand for emissions-intensive, animal-source foods.”

It is also encouraging to see alternative proteins, and dietary change more generally, highlighted as viable strategies with significant CO2 mitigation potential.  Promisingly, APAC (and China in particular) was noted as a key region where dietary change and alternative proteins have substantial cost-effective mitigation potential.

However, the report’s emphasis on ‘cost-effective’ CO2 mitigation strategies is where alternative proteins fell short amongst other measures like reduced deforestation, afforestation, and reforestation. 

Cell cultivation and precision fermentation receive only brief mention as low-carbon production solutions. The report cites a lack of verifiable evidence of emissions impact related to cellular agriculture technologies, particularly at large-scale commercial production. This observation carries significant learnings and implications for the emerging cellular agriculture industry in Australia and beyond, particularly:   

The need to prioritise impact

Cellular agriculture’s relative absence from the report reveals both a need and an opportunity for the industry: to develop the capability to robustly measure, report, and transparently communicate its emissions and broader environmental impact.

Cellular agriculture was borne out of its impact potential, with environmental benefits including the potential for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use all critical drivers for the development of its technologies and products. However, convincing key stakeholders of the impact potential, particularly policymakers, politicians, investors, and consumers, is a critical enabler to impacts being realised. 

The World Bank report is a case in point - if the industry is not able to quantify and make a compelling environmental benefit case, it risks being overlooked and deprioritised by these influential stakeholders.

However, the report acknowledges the complexity of impact and ESG reporting, stressing that “the measurement, reporting, and verification of GHG emissions reductions is a complex, and often inaccurate, process.” It draws attention to the vast inconsistency in approaches, metrics, and terminology currently being utilised by companies, and how this is fuelling confusion and distrust. 

There is an emerging paradox in the race to market where a product has to exist in order to have an impact (as well as measure and prove this impact). Yet not addressing the impact of the product during the development stage risks the success of the product, and perhaps wider industry, once on the market. 

The same also applies in the case of measuring and proving impact - companies first require scale to collect meaningful data. Exacerbating this further, the ability to prioritise impact is limited by resource constraints and competing priorities for these nascent companies. Yet to gain and maintain support from critical stakeholders, companies must find a way to communicate some level of impact accurately and compellingly.  

Despite its nascency, it is opportune for the cellular agriculture industry to begin considering and prioritising its approach to impact. To not do so is at its own risk. Companies can begin to embed ESG and impact considerations into their operations and decision-making processes from the outset, implementing measures that align with their size and stage of development.

There is a burning platform for cellular agriculture to position itself as a central component of a sustainable agrifood system and thereby gain recognition and support from The World Bank and other key international bodies. 

Given the importance of this space, CAA is currently working towards spearheading a collective and coordinated approach to impact. Stay tuned as we release more on this throughout 2024!

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