No More Hot Air, We Need To #MakeCOPMatter

If you’ve been paying attention to the news recently, you’ll probably have heard mention of an event currently taking place in Dubai, known as COP28. The COPs – full name: the United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change’s Conference of Parties (what a mouthful) –  are annual, international summits attended by world leaders, diplomats and delegates from business, industry and NGOs, whose sole purpose is to find solutions to climate change. 

COP28, as the name indicates, is the 28th such gathering. Yes, twenty eight years is how long presidents, prime ministers, chancellors and chairmen have been getting together to discuss climate change, and how to keep Earth habitable for human beings (and the other species with whom we share it). Over this period, the volume of planet-heating greenhouse gasses being emitted by human activity has continued to rise, and with it, the global temperature.

It’s Getting Hot In Here

Each year, a new ‘hottest ever [insert month here]’ record is set. 2023 in general smashed records, and 2024 will overtake it. At COP21 held in Paris in 2015, world leaders agreed that, in order to prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change from kicking in over the coming decades, the global temperature increase must be kept below 2°C, and ideally no more than 1.5°C above its pre-industrial levels (ie. before we started burning oil, coal and gas). Right now, we’re at 1.3°C warmer. We are already seeing increasingly erratic weather and more frequent and devastating fires, floods, storms and droughts. We’re on track to hit 1.5°C warmer by the 2030s.

The temperature can’t keep rising without life on Earth becoming disrupted and destabilised. With every fraction of a degree it warms up, living conditions will become increasingly challenging and progressively inhospitable. With a 3°C temperature rise, which we are on course to hit by the end of this century unless GHGs are drastically reduced, scientists predict conditions will be catastrophic. Earth will be battered, burnt and ravaged by extreme heat and chaotic weather. Food and water shortages will ensue. Many people won’t survive.

Fossil Fuels And Food

The combustion of fossil fuels is the main culprit when it comes to greenhouse gasses, global warming and climate change. Whilst we do need to “Just Stop Oil”, it isn’t all that needs to happen. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), global food systems (that’s the term used to describe the interconnected web linking every process involved in the production and consumption of food) account for more than one third of total human-caused GHG emissions. Animal agriculture – the production of meat, fish, eggs and dairy – is responsible for 57 per cent of those emissions. This is around twice those of plant-based food.

The Cow In The Room

Animal-ag contributes to the top three GHGs: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Out of those, its biggest contribution is to methane, which is the second biggest GHG and up to 30 times more powerful at heating the planet compared to carbon dioxide. Methane is emitted in cow burps. There are around one billion farmed cows on the planet who have been purpose-bred for beef and dairy production, and the amount of planet-heating methane they are burping out is literally warming up the planet. That’s mad.

In 2021, more than 100 countries, including the UK, signed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels, by 2030. We are not on track to meet this. To date, there has been too much talk at the COPs and not enough action afterwards. As COP28 reaches its halfway mark, the UN climate chief, Simon Stiell, has sent a strong message that this year’s negotiations must be ‘about action, not politics or point-scoring’, and that governments must give their negotiators ‘clear marching orders’. “Good intentions won’t halve emissions this decade or save lives right now”, he said.

COP28 UN quote

Less Meat, Less Dairy, More Plants

What’s being farmed, and what’s being eaten, are two sides of the same coin. For too long, food was overlooked at the COPs. Last year, it finally made it onto the radar. This year, the President’s agenda asks countries to sign a leaders’ declaration that recognises the need to tackle the interplay between agriculture, food and climate. At last.

But a frustrating focus so far on how to reduce food-related emissions has been to inhibit the amount of methane cows produce by putting additives in their feed. Genetically-modifying animals to produce more meat/eggs/dairy, and slaughtering them at earlier ages, are ideas also on the table. There is a much more simple and effective solution: a reduction in the number of cows (and other animals) being farmed. 

According to a report published by researchers at the policy institute Chatham House, animal agriculture needs to be scaled back by around 70 per cent to align with a C temperature rise limit. That’s why we are adding our voice to those of the food, climate and social justice campaigners who are at COP28 demanding drastic and urgent action to reduce farmed animal numbers, and to get people eating fewer animal-based and more plant-based food. 

No More Hot Air

To encourage our government to pull its finger out, so to speak,  we are taking to the streets in our campaign van calling on the government to #MakeCOPMatter.

And to give it some extra help, we have drafted a ‘Meat Less’ plan with suggestions for regulatory and financial measures to scale down meat production and consumption and to increase the availability and uptake of plant-based foods. 

We have identified two key levers for making this happen:

  • Support farmers to transition away from animal agriculture
  • Shift subsidies to plant-based foods

These steps will need to be underpinned by:

  • Financial support, such as grants, for farmers to phase out animal farming.
  • Tax breaks to encourage farmers to switch to the production of plant foods e.g. beans and legumes.
  • More research, development and investment into alt-proteins and meat alternatives, including cellular agriculture (aka ‘lab-grown meat’).
  • Renewed focus on nutritious native, locally-grown crops, which are less vulnerable to climate change.
  • Food sustainability laws with legally-binding targets and new governance mechanisms, e.g. around food waste and provision of plant-based options.

There are policies, regulations and interventions that could support and also fund this, for example:

  • A ‘methane fee’, paid by farmers/producers per tonne released.
  • Incentives to increase uptake of plant-based foods, e.g. reduced VAT.
  • At least 50 per cent of food served in public sector buildings (e.g. hospitals, schools, prisons, councils) to be plant-based.
  • Stricter regulation of high-GHG supermarket ‘meal deals’ and promotions.
  • Traffic light-style climate impact labelling on packaging and menus to influence choice.

The implementation of these steps will result in systemic change: changes in behaviour, production, business, policy and regulation. It requires everyone  – consumers, investors, farmers, suppliers, researchers and political leaders –  to be on board. 

Transitioning the food system away from a dependence on animals would help meet the government advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change,’s recommendation of a 20 per cent reduction in meat and dairy production and consumption by 2030 and a 35 per cent reduction by 2050, as outlined in its Sixth Carbon Budget published in 2020.

Meatless Farm No More Mincing Words COP28

MAKE SHIFT HAPPEN

Our government, and other world leaders, need to make this shift happen otherwise things will continue to get hotter and the sh*t will really hit the fan. Implementing a food system transformation strategy is an opportunity for the UK to lead the way. 

Greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based food are twice those of plant-based food, according to research published in Nature. At previous COPs, even though it has long been highlighted as a cause of climate change, meat has been served. This year, after pressure from environmental activists and plant-based advocates, two thirds of the menu will be meat-free. That’s a start.

While we wait to see what global pledges and commitments come out of this year’s COP, we can all do our bit to be part of the change, by eating less (or no) meat and more plants. The power to make a difference is on our plates 🌱💚

Don’t just take it from us. Even David Attenborough says so.