Whilst world leaders are attempting to hash out a climate action plan, without prioritising the reform of food systems, plans will inevitably fall short.
The 26th UN Climate Summit in Glasgow is in full swing and world leaders are attempting to hash out a climate action plan commensurate with the scale of the crisis the world faces. But campaigners and activists have warned that without prioritising the reform of food systems and particularly animal agriculture – a major global contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and habitat destruction – plans will inevitably fall short.
“The industrial animal agriculture lobby is incredibly powerful and there is a lack of political will to course-correct and make the changes necessary,” says Claire Bass, executive director for Humane Society International/UK (HSI). Over the 12 days of the conference, animal agriculture is not featured on the agenda.
COP organisers have at least made an effort to show an awareness of the climate impact of different foods in the conference’s catering. A “local”, “sustainable” and “plant-forward” menu will give an estimate of the carbon footprint of each dish. But campaigners have questioned the inclusion of beef, which produces vastly higher emissions than plant-based food even when it is sourced locally in Scotland. On a sneak peek of the menu, a Scottish beef burger emitted an estimated 3.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), while a plant-based burger only emitted 0.2kg CO2e. The inclusion of farmed salmon has also come under fire. While it has a lower emissions profile than beef, Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland has argued that it causes a host of other problems, including algal blooms, sea lice infestations on the farmed fish, and harms to wild marine life.
While COP organisers and, even more so, politicians may be failing to grasp the planetary impact of raising and slaughtering almost 100 billion animals a year for their meat, campaigners and grassroots groups are taking the lead on putting the importance of plant-based food systems front and centre.
Animal Rebellion activists kicked things off with a pre-COP action last Tuesday, scaling the building of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in London to protest the government subsidies which prop up the meat and dairy industries. They dropped a banner that read, “COP: Invest in a plant-based future” and vowed to remain suspended on the facade of DEFRA until their demands were met. They lasted several hours before being removed and arrested for aggravated trespass.
During the conference, a number of advocates for plant-based food such as HSI, ProVeg, and Plant Based Treaty, will be running events to address the impacts and risks of animal agriculture, including its potential to cause the next pandemic. There will also be a Party for the Animals March through Glasgow on the 6th of November.
If world leaders were to acknowledge and act on the advice of scientists for a global shift to plant-based diets, what kind of policies would they need to implement? According to Claire Bass, they would need to “provide technical assistance for countries to integrate food and agriculture – specifically a reduction in meat and dairy consumption and production – into their national climate change mitigation strategies. At the heart of those strategies there needs to be financial incentives and mechanisms to help farmers achieve a just transition to the production of more food crops and shift away from industrial animal agriculture.” In the UK specifically, the government should also pay attention to the “considerable public appetite for a government-led meat and dairy reduction campaign,” she says. “This would include creating leading by example in public sector procurement, as well as national guidelines for sustainable and healthy diets, encouraging individuals and institutions to shift toward diets higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods, as well as transforming the language and conversation around meat and dairy reduction to one of exciting and necessary change to improve human and planetary health.”
As Animal Rebellion pointed out in its direct action last week, Bass notes that subsidies for industrial livestock farming should be redirected to “sustainable plant-based agriculture as a priority, as well as to close the innovation gap in plant-based farming and food production by incentivising investment in the development of alternatives to animal-based protein, including plant-based proteins and cellular meat, and to create a regulatory environment to support such innovation.”
Original source: https://www.surgeactivism.org