Plant-Based Food Is Critical In the Fight Against Climate Change. So Why Isn’t It a Priority at COP26?

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In a petition posted to Change.org, Spanish vegan meat brand Heura Foods is urging UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to bring vegan food to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) scheduled to take place in November in Glasgow.

“We have listened to your words. We have noticed your (lack of) actions. Now it’s time to act and address diet as a key way to drive positive impact on the climate crisis,” the brand’s co-founders Mark Coloma and  Bernat Ananos Martinez wrote in a post to LinkedIn. 

The two-week summit’s aim is to accelerate dialogues and actions around Paris Agreement and the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

To that, Heura Foods says there is “more than enough data” to validate plant-based foods as a means to help slow the climate emergency. Yet the COP26 menu options are not entirely plant-based, according to the brand.

‘Climate strategies continually fail to mention the importance of diet’

“The UK government are supposed leaders in climate change policy, yet, climate strategies continually fail to mention the importance of diet, despite many evidence-based reports citing the environmental benefits of consuming a plant-based diet,” Heura wrote in the petition.

The brand urges Johnson to take action and help “plant-based diets to take a seat at the table.” 

Source: Heura Foods

There is a growing body of research pointing to the benefits of leaving animal products off the table to reverse climate change.

The link between human activity and the climate emergency is well-documented. Experts like BBC naturalist Sir David Attenborough have been sounding the alarm about global warming for years.

According to data shared by Martinez, switching to a plant-based diet can reduce food-related emissions by as much as 73 percent; 26 percent of all emissions come from food and 58 percent of this is the result of animal products. A reduction in animal products could also reduce the area of farmland used for livestock production by 75 percent.

Meat consumption and the pandemic

The consumption of animal products is also linked to human health risks.

The World Health Organization has warned of the “post-antibiotic era” for more than a decade. It’s a result of the excessive use of antibiotics in livestock production.

Researchers out of the University of Cambridge say climate change could have also played a ‘key role’ in the coronavirus pandemic. Ecosystems are warming, biodiversity loss is at an all-time high, and as these regions heat up, animal habitats shrink, increasing the likelihood for diseases to jump from species to species. This, experts warn, suggest, that if left untreated, the climate crisis could bring more pandemics even more severe than COVID-19, which has already taken more than 4 million lives. The findings were published earlier this year in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

According to the researchers, a century’s worth of vegetation changes drastically increased the number of bat species in Southeast Asia. There are now 40 more bat species than there were 100 years ago. They bring about 100 different types of bat-borne coronaviruses to the region. Experts believe the coronavirus started at a wet market in Wuhan, China.

‘Global hotspots’

Researchers looked at climate data from the last century, noting changes to temperature, sunlight, and carbon dioxide in the region. The shifts turned the tropical shrubland into a tropical savannah and deciduous woodland; that environment became a “global hotspot” for bats.

Source: Naturli

“If bats carrying around 100 coronaviruses expanded into a new area due to climate change, then it would seem likely that this increases, rather than decreases, the chance that a coronavirus harmful to humans is present, transmitted, or evolves in this area,” explains Dr. Robert Beyer, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Cambridge.

“We estimate that, over the past century, climate change caused a significant increase in the number of bat species in the location where SARS-CoV-2 likely originated,” said Beyer. “This increase suggests a possible mechanism for how climate change could have played a role in the origin of the pandemic.” 

Heura’s founders also cite the human health risks as reason to shift from meat consumption. A growing body of research points to the health risks from heart disease, obesity, and cancer related to meat consumption. The most recent study found a correlation between consuming hot dogs and decreased life expectancy—the decrease in lifespan is about as long as it takes to eat the hot dog meal.

Is the UK lying about emissions?

Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg also took aim at the UK ahead of COP26. Earlier this month the founder of Fridays for Future said the UK has been lying about its climate change progress. 

“There’s a lie that the UK is a climate leader and that they have reduced their emissions by 45 per cent since 1990,” she said. According to Thunberg, this number is not reflective of the UK’s emissions produced from air travel, imports, and shipping.   

“Of course, if you don’t include all emissions of course the statistics are going to look much nicer,” Thunberg said. “I’m really hoping that we stop referring to the UK as a climate leader, because if you look at the reality that is simply not true. They are very good at creative carbon accounting, I must give them that, but it doesn’t mean much in practice.” 

A government spokesperson responded to Thunberg’s comments saying that the country is “proud of the strides we are already making in tackling climate change, cutting emissions by 44 per cent over the past three decades.” According to the UK government the data is aligned with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change standards for reporting emissions.

Greta Thunberg (Source: Fridays for Future)

“We stand by our assertion that we are a world leader in the fight against climate change, and are absolutely committed to meeting our future climate commitments. We were the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to climate change by 2050, and our Net Zero Strategy – to be published shortly – will set out our plans to do even more.”

COP26 criticisms

The event has also been criticized for its lack of diversity and representation. Last December, more than 400 signatories, including  British celebrities Ellie Goulding, Emma Watson, and Lily Cole, called for more female representation at the event. 

The SheChangesClimate campaign sent an open letter to the UK government calling for greater accountability and transparency on gender equality at COP26. The campaign is asking for a 50 percent representation of women in the UK’s COP26 top leadership team.

“It is incomprehensible that half the planet is not represented in the senior leadership team,” the letter reads.

Not strengthening female voices in the conversation is a “step backwards for climate justice and a failure of responsibility to put together the strongest team,” the group says.

COP25 included a Gender Action Plan that underscored the importance of including women in the climate conversation.

The group says it had meetings with Peter Hill, CEO of COP26 and Alok Sharma, its President.

“The perspectives of those who are most likely to bear the brunt of climate change, and have demonstrated resourcefulness and resilience, must have their views included in the framing and narrative of this COP26 agenda,” the group noted. According to the UN, with fewer resources and rights, about 80 percent of those displaced by climate change are women.

SheChangesClimate says Sharma promised to continue the dialogue and proactively collaborate on ways to resolve the lack of representation.

Paris Agreement co-author Laurence Tubiana signed the letter. Other signatories include former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, economist Kate Raworth, and National Geographic Explorer Sylvia Earle.

Earlier this month, Alok Sharma, president of the COP26 conference, came under fire for visiting more than 30 countries since January, several of which were red-listed for Covid outbreaks. Sharma was able to make the visits using an exemption allotted to ministers, which also allowed him to avoid quarantine restrictions following the trips.

Sharma’s office said the travel was “crucial” ahead of the climate conference, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic.


Lead image by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels / Annie Spratt via Unsplash.


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