Environment

The COP26 menu is ‘like serving cigarettes at a lung cancer conference’

Climate and conservation groups have questioned the sustainability of the COP26 menu, which is almost 60 per cent meat or dairy based.

A cheeseburger at COP26 has a carbon footprint of 3.4 kg, double the UK average for a single meal. File picture from Pexels

You might expect the world’s biggest climate change conference to opt for eco-friendly menus, given the clamour to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the menu at COP26 in Glasgow is almost 60 per cent meat or dairy with dishes labelled as high-carbon at almost every food stand, a move which ‘beggars belief” according to climate and conservation campaigners.

Delegates are presented with a broad menu at the conference, from soups, sandwiches and salads to pizza, pasta and pastries. The carbon footprint for every item is listed on the menu, available online at a website called ARecipeForChange.co.uk, with burgers, venison, beef ramen, and haggis all featuring, despite their high carbon footprint.

“According to the WWF, we need to get [the carbon footprint of food] down below 0.5 kg CO2e [per meal] to reach the goals defined in the Paris Agreement,” reads a statement on each page of the online menu. “By including climate labels on our our menus, we aim to make it easier to achieve this goal – together.”

Half the dishes listed in the main dining area contain meat, all of which were among those with the highest carbon footprint, and were largely sourced from Scotland.

The “haggis, neeps and tatties” option used 3.4kg of carbon to produce, according to the conference’s owning rating system, double the carbon footprint of the average UK meal of 1.7 kg and nearly seven times higher than the 0.5 kg target.

The website shows that two-thirds of items on the menu have a carbon footprint at or below 0.5kg.

The conference teamed up with Swedish start-up Klimato to analyse and display the carbon footprint of all menu items. The organisation says the aim is to “help [people] choose the dishes with the lowest carbon footprint”. It does not say what happens to the high-carbon food if no one eats it.

Emissions from global livestock production fro meat and dairy account for 14.5 per cent of all human-driven emissions, and the UK government’s own climate change advisers have urged it to curb public demand for animal products.

Joel Scott-Halkes, a spokesperson for campaign group Animal Rebellion, said: “The utterly reckless inclusion of meat, seafood and dairy on the COP26 catering menu is a damning indictment of the UK government’s utter failure to grasp the root cause of the climate crisis. 

“It’s like serving cigarettes at a lung cancer conference. As long as such illogical decisions are being made, the climate emergency will never be resolved.“ 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which organises the conference, has been approached for comment.

The Salmon and Conservation Trust has also questioned the sustainability of the farmed salmon offered in some COP26 dishes.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, director of Salmon and Trout Conservation, said: “Open-net salmon farming has caused serious environmental damage and indeed ecocide in all those jurisdictions around the world, where blinkered governments have allowed it to operate. 

“It is, by any reasonable set of criteria, unsustainable and to include farmed salmon on the COP26 menu is beggars belief. One wonders what level of scrutiny and due diligence was applied before the menu was finalised.”

The lowest-carbon options were those that were entirely plant-based. One kale and vegetable pasta dish, for instance, generated just 0.3kg of carbon per serving and fell into the “low” category. 

Even some vegetarian dishes had high carbon ratings, with a Scottish buffalo mozzarella pizza generating 2.1kg per serving.

Throughout the conference, 41 per cent of the food on offer is meat or fish based, while 17 per cent is dairy based, meaning 58 per cent of the menu contains animal products. 

Around 42 per cent of the food on offer is completely plant-based. 

Other events in the UK, including UK music festival Shambala, have completely removed meat from menus as part of a commitment to going green. 

When it took the decision in 2016, Shambala said: “We can’t ignore the indisputable evidence that a diet predominantly based on meat and fish is having a devastating effect on this little blue and green marble we call home.”

The festival says removing meat from its menus has reduced 100 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from its event every year. 

The carbon footprint of food at COP isn’t the only concern for some environmental campaigners. 

Eyebrows have been raised over the high numbers of delegates travelling to the conference by plane.

This includes Boris Johnson, who plans to fly back to London after warning delegates about the threat posed by climate change.

A government spokesperson said: “It’s important the PM is able to move around the country. We have obviously faced significant time constraints”.

While you’re here…

The Big Issue has co-launched a new fund that invests ONLY in companies working to solve the climate crisis and help to create a cleaner, more sustainable world. The focus is on what can be done NOW for future generations. 

In partnership with Aberdeen Standard Investments, the Multi-Asset Climate Solutions (MACS) Fund actively scours the globe for companies that get at least half of their revenue from climate change solutions and other key environmental challenges. Currently, less than five per cent of the world’s companies fit the bill.

From renewable energy and green buildings to electric vehicles and remote working technologies, the fund invests in companies that are enabling the transition to a low carbon economy.

A Climate Advisory Group that includes Nigel Kershaw, Chair of The Big Issue Group, as well as respected environmental, policy and finance experts and climate activists has been established to make sure the fund does what it is supposed to do. It is proof that the fund is not a tokenistic step.

20 per cent of the net revenue goes back into The Big Issue to support its social mission.

To find out more about the MACS Fund go to bigexchange.com or abrdn.com

Learn more about further Big Issue work for Future Generations, through John Bird’s Future Generations Bill currently working through Westminster, see bigissue.com/today-for-tomorrow

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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