Like many groups working towards a more sustainable global food system, we’re disappointed to learn that this year’s UN Climate Conference (COP25) won’t take place in Chile as planned, although we understand that the safety and well-being of the Chilean people must take priority over an international conference.
As the conference organizers and international climate groups move forward with alternate plans, we want to alert them to one significant casualty of this change. COP25 Chile was set to become a historic first—the first global climate event to reflect agriculture’s role in climate change in the food served at the conference. Last year’s conference in Poland was criticized for serving a meat-heavy menu to its attendees, even as the same attendees and leading climate scientists advocate meat-reduction as one of the most important ways to slow climate change globally. If the people advocating for a change in how we eat aren’t willing to change how they eat, then how can the global community take them seriously?
This year’s conference in Chile was set to be different. The conference organizers had agreed to recommendations put forward by the Food and Climate Alliance, a global coalition of food and climate organizations that Farm Forward is a part of, facilitated by a Chilean advocacy organization, Fundación Vegetarianos Hoy, and were in the process of seeking out caterers to serve a climate-friendly menu. The top recommendation was that the conference “default veg”—that is, that plant-based meals would be offered to all attendees, by default, unless they request meals with animal products. This recommendation was based on a behavioral economics concept that switching defaults is one of the most powerful ways to shift consumer behavior.
In our experience and that of our partners, adopting a default veg menu typically results in an increase in people choosing the plant-based meal option by anywhere from 20-50%. For a conference of COP25’s size, this could result in a carbon savings of approximately 28,000 pounds of carbon. Moreover, it would be a way to model to thousands of global climate leaders how easy and delicious it can be to eat mostly plants.
But just because the conference won’t take place in Chile doesn’t mean this opportunity is lost. We urge Spain to follow through with the commitment to serve food that reflects the UN’s own recommendations for climate action.
A shift in how we understand food’s role in climate change is taking place and we’re proud to be part of the movement that is helping the world adapt to this shift.