THE Met Gala, Golden Globes, and Critics’ Choice Movie Awards are going, or have gone, fully vegan. Yet the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26), an event aimed at tackling climate change, can’t seem to ditch meat, dairy, and eggs. I know I’m not the only one who thinks that’s absurd.
The United Nations itself has acknowledged that animal agriculture causes nearly one-fifth of human-induced greenhouse-gas emissions and that the production of meat, eggs, and dairy is the leading cause of ocean dead zones, water pollution, species extinction, and habitat destruction.
It has also asserted that raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”. Given the profoundly negative impact of animal agriculture on the environment, serving non-vegan food at a climate change summit is, to quote my friends at PETA, “like distributing cigarettes at a health convention”. It’s counterproductive and dangerous.
Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, energy, and water – and causes animals untold suffering. Researchers at the University of Oxford studied the effects of various foods from 40,000 farms in 119 countries and concluded that huge reductions in meat-eating – including reducing beef consumption to almost nil – are not merely desirable but essential to avoiding the worst effects of the climate crisis.
The lead researcher, Joseph Poore, also concluded that going vegan is “the single biggest way” for everyone to reduce their impact on the planet – much more so than flying less or buying an electric car. Another study found that a widespread switch to vegan eating would cut global greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 70% by 2050 since vegan foods have a much smaller carbon footprint than their animal-based equivalents, even if the animals are grass-fed and kept on local farms. Similar findings are echoed by every unbiased environmental study on the impact of animal agriculture.
COP26 has been referred to as the world’s “last chance” to avert climate disaster. And if the conference is to stand any chance of creating life-saving change, heads of state, organisers, and delegates must lead by example and shun animal-derived foods in favour of vegan meals. With the wide array of delicious vegan offerings available, that would be a simple matter.
Of course, leaders need not stop there. They can also use the gathering as an opportunity to discuss the adoption of policies such as taxes on animal products, financial support for farmers to help them make the transition away from raising animals for food, and initiatives to encourage schools and all other public sector institutions to switch to vegan meals. These things – and much more – must be done if we want our children’s children to have a habitable planet.
As individuals, we also have power. We can join marches and rallies and make our voices heard. We can vote for leaders who champion climate-friendly policies. And we can all take personal responsibility by ditching meat, dairy, and eggs. Our lives depend on it.
Jack Harries is an environmentalist and filmmaker. He is joining PETA’s campaign urging COP26 to serve only vegan meals. Sign the petition here.