Ah, the irony: menu options lacking at the UN Climate Change Conference

Betwa Sharma, a Huffington Post/Times of India journalist attending the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris posted an article about the dismal lack of viable vegetarian options available to attendees and journalists. “Perhaps hunger sharpens your sense of irony. And it’s not easy to miss this one,” she writes. “This is the venue where nearly 200 countries are huddled in a ‘last chance’ attempt to reduce carbon emissions.”

n FOOD STALL AT COP 21 large640 400x267 Ah, the irony: menu options lacking at the UN Climate Change ConferenceShe clarifies with this fact: “According the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meat in diets pumps more greenhouse gases–carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide–into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry.”

Silvia Dias, a communications expert from Brazil who is also attending the conference, told Sharma that a much smaller climate change session held in Bonn earlier this year offered more vegetarian options, including lentils and rice, vegetarian Moussaka and Mexican dishes.

“It is really disturbing to see that the U.N. Climate Change Conference is going against the recommendations of FAO, which is a U.N. Agency. You would think that at a climate change conference there should be even more vegetarian options than non-vegetarian,” she added.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided this 2014 statistic on greenhouse gas emissions world-wide:

GHG emissions AFOLU Ah, the irony: menu options lacking at the UN Climate Change Conference

The IPCC’s own Mitigation for Climate Change Study summary for policy makers [my italic] offers this:

“Demand-side measures, such as changes in diet and reductions of losses in the food supply chain, have a significant, but uncertain, potential to reduce GHG emissions from food production.”

And yet, with all the planning that went into this important global event, the idea of offering plentiful and viable plant-based menu options didn’t enter the equation. Think of the opportunity that was missed here, not only by catering to a global community, many of whose cultural dietary preferences already lean toward plant-based foods, but also by introducing viable vegetarian options to those who haven’t tried them before. With India and China among principal emission generators, why not emphasize their own plant-based cuisines as examples? Options could’ve included Indian dishes like chana masala (with garbanzo beans) or dal tadka (with lentils), Asian-style tofu dishes and stir fries, as well as falafel sandwiches, veggie burgers, black bean chili . . . the list goes on.

Thomas W. Hertel, a Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, focuses his research on the economy-wide impacts of global trade and environmental policies. On a recent segment of the PBS Newshour, he said this:

“If you look globally and you just compare every sector, I’m talking electric utilities, steel, automobiles, beef, globally, beef is at the top, OK, the highest emissions per dollar of output, higher than electric utilities globally.”

It’s clear that the impact of animal agriculture merits serious attention if the world is to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many environmentalists already understand this and have steered their diet in a plant-based direction. The UN Conference on Climate Change could’ve easily set an important example (and shown integrity in its messaging) by offering a plentiful variety of plant-based menu options for its attendees.

Editor’s note: this article is reposted from Johanna McCloy’s Veggie Happy Blog