COP26’s meaty menu sparks controversy over emissions

The meals served at the ongoing COP26 conference seem to conflict with the event’s agenda. For the world’s biggest climate change conference, you would expect a climate-friendly menu. On the contrary, about 60% of the foods served are either meat or dairy-based. Although the conference organizers know the carbon footprint of dairy and meat products, they still included them on the menu.

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At the conference, delegates are presented with a broad menu, including sandwiches, pastries, pasta, pizza and salads, among others. The carbon footprint of all the foods at the conference is available online via the website A Recipe For Change. A message posted on the website reads, “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.” 

Related: Will promises from world leaders at COP26 actually happen?

A look at the menu shows that over half the dishes contain meat or dairy, which are among the foods with the highest carbon footprint. According to Swedish start-up Klimato, the brand displaying carbon footprints of each meal, it aims to help delegates choose foods with the lowest carbon impact.

Emissions from livestock farming contribute about 14.5% of the total human-caused emissions globally. These carbon emissions can only be cut down if we stop consuming meat and dairy products.

Among the foods served at the conference, those with the lowest carbon footprint included plant-based meals. For instance, a vegetable pasta meal only generates 0.3kg of carbon per serving. Other meals were far higher in carbon ratings. Even some vegetarian foods, such as the buffalo mozzarella pizza, ranked among the highest, with the dish contributing 2.1kg of carbon per serving.

According to Joel Scott-Halkes, spokesperson for the campaign group Animal Rebellion, the inclusion of high emission foods on the menu indicates the U.K.’s failure to understand the main causes of the climate crisis.

“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,” said Scott-Halkes “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.”

Via Big Issue