As all eyes turn to Glasgow for COP26 our interim CEO, Louise Davies, explains what it’s all about and how The Vegan Society will be making the most of the opportunity.
It’s been a long time in the making but the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP26, is almost here. At The Vegan Society, we’ve been thinking about the importance of this event – being hosted in Glasgow – for the last couple of years. We know that switching to a plant-based diet can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 50% and has many other co-benefits in terms of tackling deforestation, biodiversity loss and water usage. It has been our hope that when world leaders convene to discuss their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and corresponding action plans, dietary change would be high on the agenda.
What’s it all about?
The conference is an annual meeting of global leaders to discuss how to tackle climate change. The first of these meetings was held in 1994 and this will be the 26th meeting (rescheduled from last November). The Paris Agreement was made at COP21 where 196 countries agreed to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels. At COP26, nations are due to review the progress made and share their plans for cutting carbon emissions.
The UK has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to reduce emissions by 68% by 2030. But, so far, we have very little in terms of a plan of action. The Committee on Climate Change, who advise the government on how to reach these targets, have called for people to eat 20% less meat and dairy produce by 2030, and 35% less by 2050. But the government have yet to take any action to achieve these targets or even to acknowledge the role of food in tackling the climate crisis.
Why is it important for the vegan movement?
A transition to a vegan society is going to require both individual behaviour change and systems change to provide the policies and infrastructure to support vegan lifestyles. Despite our best efforts, such systems change is unlikely to happen based on a case for respecting non-human lives. The climate crisis is high on the political agenda and, by connecting animal agriculture and dietary change as part of the solutions, we stand a real chance of encouraging incremental measures that support reductions in the use of animal products (as well as more explicit support of plant-based diets, such as investment in the sector as called for by the National Food Strategy).
The Vegan Society has long campaigned on the environmental case for veganism. In fact, our long-term strategy includes the following desired outcomes:
- The environmental case for veganism shifts the mainstream environmental movement towards veganism and thereby consolidates the surge in veganism.
- A shift from animal-based agriculture to plant-based agriculture.
- Individuals, decision-makers and public and private organisations understand the links between animal farming and environmental damage, sustainability and food security.
- Global food security campaigns link plant-based diets to sustainable living and fair treatment of all people.
Our behaviour change campaign, Plate Up for the Planet, our systems change campaign Grow Green, and our new food systems report Planting Value in the Food System, go some way to achieving these outcomes. We can use COP26 to bring this work to the attention of UK and global policy makers.
What are The Vegan Society doing at COP26?
Firstly, we’re supporting campaigns to actually get food and farming on the agenda! It seems ludicrous that animal agriculture, such a large contributor to global carbon emissions, is omitted from the discussions. Despite daily topics such as finance, energy, transport and nature, there is no space to discuss food and agriculture at COP26. We’ve been sharing petitions that demand world leaders support a plant-based diet. We’re supporters of the Plant Based Treaty and we’re encouraging people to contact their MP to support an Early Day Motion to get animal agriculture on the agenda. We also think that COP26 should lead by example by serving a low emission menu and you can sign a petition in support of plant-based food at COP26 here.
Public engagement activity
- Our ambition is that every visitor to Glasgow in early November comes away with a very clear understanding that going vegan is a good move for the planet. We have an advertising campaign running across digital outdoor signs, ad-bikes cycling outside the conference centre branded with our Plate Up for the Planet campaign, and advertising across social media targeted at those attending the conference.
- On 1 November, it’s World Vegan Day and we’ll have a special activity taking place outside both the conference centre and also the Glasgow science centre drawing attention to veganism and our Plate Up for the Planet campaign.
- On 3 November, we’re supporting Planet Shine’s Voiceless Revolution Campaign by providing a speaker at the panel event to talk about the benefits of veganism.
- Throughout the entire conference, we will have a stand in the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre, encouraging people to sign up to try a vegan diet for a week, while also providing handy carbon-assessed recipes and other ethical treats.
- On 4-6 November, we’re collaborating with bluedot for a festival of music, arts and talks.The ‘Plate Up for the Planet’ festival will reach a large audience via online platforms as well as engaging local people and visitors to COP26.
- On 6 November, it’s the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice organised by the COP26 Coalition of which we’re a part. We’ll be encouraging our supporters to take part in the march with vegan banners to get our message across.
- On 12 November, we’ve been given a space in the Government-run area of the science centre, the ‘Green Zone’, to promote our Plate Up for the Planet campaign.
We are designated NGO observers of the conference so our policy team will be networking at the conference centre, attending as many relevant side events as possible and aiming to arrange meetings with decision makers and other NGO contacts to build support.
- We have been offered a digital presence in an official space, the ‘Blue Zone’, so we’ll be sharing some of the key messages from our Planting Value in the Food System report, calling for a fair, plant-based food system that works for everyone.
- We’re adapting our Planting Value policy briefing to talk about the climate crisis imperative and to give examples of global leadership in this area.
- We’ve also applied for an exhibition space and side event in the Blue Zone and we’re waiting to hear if our application has been successful.
What do we hope to achieve?
These are the objectives that we set at the start of our planning for COP26:
Position plant-based diets at the heart of global policy making to tackle the climate crisis
- Our networking, virtual exhibit, side event and collaborations with other NGOs will help to encourage policy makers to consider the benefits of plant-based diets.
Gain support for specific policies to support a shift to plant-based diets
- We’re aiming to meet with decision makers at COP and call for support for our three key policy areas:
- Food Sustainability Bill – we’re suggesting other Global North countries should have analogous legislation.
- Consistent leadership – we plan to research and include leadership examples from other countries, e.g. the Netherlands reducing numbers of livestock, Canada’s investment in plant protein and Portugal’s support of plant-based public sector procurement.
- Research & Developement investment – a call for the Global North to commit to recognising the carbon footprint of imports; appeals to British farmers and our existing message about home-grown production. Investment in production-side measures/investment in plant protein supply chains.
Access a large audience of influencers and the general public
- Our collaboration with the renowned bluedot festival should reach a wide audience, both in person and on social channels. We’re also expecting a large number of visitors to our city centre stand and our Green Zone stand.
Encourage public behaviour change towards plant-based living
- Our Plate Up for the Planet campaign should reach millions of people through advertising in Glasgow and online.
Show leadership in the vegan and plant-based movement
- Our in-depth policy work puts us in a unique position to convey the benefits of a transition to plant-based diets based on scientific evidence. We’re seeking to collaborate with other NGOs, vegan and otherwise, to share these messages.
How can you get involved?
- Join us outside the SECC on 1 November (World Vegan Day) for a special activity!
- Join us at the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice on 6 November. Download some vegan placard designs here.
- Come along to Plate Up for the Planet festival, our collaboration with bluedot (info coming soon).
- Spread the word about our stand at the Buchanan Galleries, 1-12 November.
Sign these petitions!
For more information about our activities at COP26, contact our Event Manager Emily Quinton: Emily.quinton[at]vegansociety[dot]com.