UK (Scotland): How the ‘Eat Local’ Food Myth Led to COP26’s Menu Failure.

COP’s history of serving meat-heavy menus

At first glance, the COP26 menu seems to be a far cry from the food available at COP25. Attendees formed long lines in front of a pink food truck—one of the few, if not the only venue offering plant-based options at the 2019 conference.

At a second glance, however, the COP26 menu proves to be a bewildering setback. After the meat- and dairy-laden menu served at COP24 drew criticism from environmental experts, the Food and Climate Alliance (FCA), a sustainability alliance comprising more than 50 organizations, partnered with the UN and the Chilean nonprofit Vegetarianos Hoy to make sure that COP25 would serve a more climate-friendly menu.

Had COP25 not been relocated from Santiago de Chile to Madrid due to the 2019–2021 Chilean protests, up to 70 percent of its menu would have been plant-based. Following the 2019 climate conference, one reporting outlet ended on a hopeful note, pointing out that COP26 would take place in Glasgow, “one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the UK.”

Two years later, not only is Glasgow still considered a very vegan-friendly city; the UK ranks as the most popular country for veganism in the world, according to foodie magazine Chef’s Pencil. Further, the country is home to The Vegan Society, one of the oldest vegan organizations in the world, a vibrant plant-based scene, and to Veganuary, an initiative that encouraged more than half a million people worldwide to try veganism in January 2021.

“The Vegan Society strongly believes that the COP26 menu should have been fully plant-based,” said Francine Jordan, Media and PR Officer at The Vegan Society, when contacted by Sentient Media for comment. “How can we have a discussion about the climate crisis while ignoring the evidence that vegan diets can reduce individual dietary carbon emissions by 50 percent?”

COP26 failed to devise a menu aligned with climate goals

How did we get from a 70 percent plant-based COP menu scheduled to be served in Chile in 2019 to a 42 percent plant-based menu served in the UK in 2021? Certainly not due to new evidence letting animal products off the hook. Over the past years, more scientific evidence has accrued, confirming the devastating climate impact of meat, dairy, and eggs.

According to new estimates, animal agriculture contributes between 16 and 57 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and experts warn that the expanding livestock sector threatens to prevent the world from reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to a study published in the journal Science, food production alone could heat the world by more than 1.5° by the 2060s.

COP26 caterer Levy acknowledges these findings in part. Releasing the conference menu at ARecipeForChange.co.uk, the company states that “the food industry has a responsibility to do more for the planet.” It also features a graph showing the emission caused by different foods per 100 grams of protein. Tofu, the only plant-based item, has lower emissions than all other options shown.

Keeping these numbers in mind, it is startling to realize that Levy chose to offer all animal-based foods featured in the chart but not a single dish containing tofu. And there is another striking discrepancy between the educational material provided by Levy and the menu it devised.

All menu boards—ranging from pizzapasta, and pastries to soupsandwiches, and burgers—note that an average meal in the UK has a carbon footprint of 1.7 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), a number that needs to come down to 0.5 kg CO2e, according to the WWF, to reach the goals set by the Paris Agreement. The WWF explains that this number applies to lunch and dinner. For breakfast and snacks, the amount needs to be reduced even further to 0.4 and 0.2 CO2e kg, respectively. 

Levy states that it analyzed the carbon footprint of all menu items in partnership with Swedish start-up Klimato to help attendees “choose the dishes with the lowest carbon footprint.” Nonetheless, 35 percent of meals served at COP26 have carbon footprints higher than 0.5 kg. Two dishes containing beef and lamb emit as much as 3.4 kg, more than six times the amount recommended. 

“The organizers opted to include the CO2 emissions alongside each item, however, all this does is highlight just how damaging the non-vegan options are,” said Jordan from The Vegan Society, who attended this year’s conference. “Almost every plant-based option is below the recommended amount of 0.5kg of CO2.”

The carbon labeling shows that COP26 failed to devise a more plant-based menu that would have enabled participants to eat meals aligned with the goals pursued by the very conference they were attending.

The reason for the mismatch between Klimato’s calculations, the WWF’s recommendations, and the COP26 menu can also be found on ARecipeForChange.co.uk. According to Levy, it assembled the menu intending to use at least 80 percent Scottish-sourced food. This objective is also a defining feature of the sustainability strategy established by the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), the venue for COP26.

Yet, as the COP26 menu illustrates, the climate impact of a meal depends less on its origin than its ingredients. The three items with the highest carbon footprints on the entire menu— traditional haggis and two types of beef burgers—are made from ingredients sourced in Scotland. The burger menu even notes that the meat content of the burgers had been cut down from its standard size; otherwise, the burgers’ CO2 emissions would have been higher than 5 kg.

“Each dish’s carbon footprint has been measured, which has been positively received,” a spokesperson from SEC responded when contacted by Sentient Media for comment. “The carbon labeling has supported people to make an informed decision about the food that they eat and the impact is [sic] has on the environment.”

Continue on next page.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s