Akaushi beef topped with green chile, applewood smoked bacon, onions, lettuce, tomato, green chile infused mayo, served on a  brioche bun KoriKobayashi/iStock/GettyImagesPlus

Would changing your diet help the planet?

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that 14.5% of global emissions come from livestock.

by Deena Shanker

“Eat less meat” has become a mantra of climate change activists, but there’s plenty of meat on the menu at the COP24.

The 22,000 delegates attending the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change this week in Katowice, Poland, will attempt to hammer out specific rules to hold signatories to emissions-reducing pledges made in Paris two years ago. But three nonprofits are noting that the conference’s menu, which features more meat and dairy than plant-based options, sends an unfortunate if perhaps unintended message from a group whose focus is to slow the Earth's march toward calamity.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that 14.5% of global emissions come from livestock alone. Eliminating those emissions would go a long way towards meeting emissions goals, animal welfare and environmental activists argue. Slowly but surely, changes to diet are being seen as an important piece of climate change mitigation plans.

In the span of one week in October, for example, three major climate change reports all called for less meat and dairy heavy diets. First, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated with “high confidence” that changing dietary behaviors could be an effective mitigation strategy. Then, a study in Nature called for major reductions in the consumption of meat and dairy, with nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables subbing in. Finally, a plan presented by the Climate, Land, Ambition & Rights Alliance found global temperatures could be kept from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by limiting individual meat consumption to about two five-ounce servings per week.

Such a radical shift in the human diet would fundamentally alter the way food is produced, and help tackle other issues such as biodiversity loss, violations of indigenous rights, and food insecurity, the group contends.  

At COP24, however, attendees will be offered cheeseburgers, gnocchi with parmesan and Parma ham, and beef with smoked bacon, notes the Center for Biological Diversity, Farm Forward and Brighter Green. In their analysis, the menu from the 12-day conference could emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases as burning 500,000 gallons of gasoline, if all the attendees chose meat-based dishes at the site’s largest food court. 

Along with sessions on energy, finance and oceans, the COP24 agenda also includes an event on Wednesday titled “Planetary Health: Food Systems Event,” organized by EAT, the UN Climate Change secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative and The Rockefeller Foundation. It “aims to raise awareness of the role of food systems in addressing both climate change and the sustainable development goals,” according to the event's website.

“The menu on offer appears to completely ignore the climate,” said Fabrice DeClerck, Science Director at EAT, in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. Reducing meat consumption, he continued, is "the single biggest food system change that can be made in support of climate."

“The meat-laden menu at COP24 is an insult to the work of the conference,” said Stephanie Feldstein, director of the Population and Sustainability program at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “If the world leaders gathering in Poland hope to address the climate crisis, they need to tackle overconsumption of meat and dairy, starting with what’s on their own plates.”

Representatives from COP24 and the Rockefeller Foundation did not immediately respond with a comment.

To contact the author of this story: Deena Shanker in New York at [email protected]

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P 

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