By Kate Cullen
There’s no denying it; COP25, the United Nation’s most recent round of climate negotiations, was messy and disappointing.
2019 was marked by salient public mobilisations for urgent global action on climate change led by youth, indigenous leaders and others. The IPCC released crystal-clear scientific reports on the grave danger of climate change for our land and food systems as well as our oceans and ice reserves. Financial leaders increasingly engaged with the climate agenda, citing the economic necessity for swift and systematic de-carbonisation and adaptation.
At the same time, conservative, nationalist parties won election-after-election and global carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high. These two disparate realities of global climate action and apathy came to a head at the COP25 meeting in December.
Running 40 hours over schedule, COP25 was reported on as a lost opportunity, total disconnect, failure and, at best, a minimum compromise. Country negotiators set out to finalise unresolved pieces of the Paris Agreement rules; notably the establishment of a global carbon market under article 6 (to find out the significance and outcome of this discussion see our post on article 6 here). Another key objective was to ensure transparency and synchronisation in the reporting of climate pledges. Progress was tenuous and ultimately halted by a handful of laggard countries—the US, Brazil and Australia.
As a climate-water scientist and, simply as a young person wanting to live on a just and healthy planet, this disappointment hit especially hard. I attended COP23 as an assistant to a negotiator from the Pacific island nation of Palau. While the summit had its own issues, governments and citizens still had faith the Paris Agreement would ultimately spur meaningful global action. This time at COP25, attending as a researcher and observer from Oxford, the chatter in the hallways and global outlook was not as optimistic.
Yet in a recent piece for the Guardian, Aruna Chandrasekhar, a journalist and colleague in the School of Geography and the Environment, posits:
"But dysfunctional as they are, COPs are perhaps the only international legal forum that are partly open to observers to witness geopolitics and global call-out culture first-hand. And it’s those witnesses – all of us – who must apply the pressure."
In this spirit, I’d like to highlight the stories of a few of my colleagues who also bore witness to the COP25 process and worked to “apply the pressure” as researchers, students and activists.
Alex Clark, a DPhil student in Geography and the Environment, sat down with me in a quiet corner of the United Kingdom pavilion at COP25 to describe his work with Professor Thomas Hale on the Galvanizing the Groundswell of Climate Actions project.
For the last three and a half years, Clark has contributed to Groundswell, as well as the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, which works to build a more formal role for “non-Party stakeholders,” i.e. civil society, scientists, indigenous leaders, youth leaders, etc. in the COP process. At COP26 Alex supported Groundswell project partners and helped drum up support at high level events for the continuation of the Marrakesh Partnership into future COPs. This work was successful and, at least in text, negotiators acknowledged “the important role” non-Party stakeholders play and agreed to extend the Partnership for the foreseeable future.
Natalie Chung, MSc student in Environmental Change and Management, shares:
"I attended COP for the first time with Carbon Care Innolab, an NGO promoting youth participation in international climate policy making. I then got involved in the UN youth constituency YOUNGO and sat in bilaterals with high level leaders and negotiators.
The most rewarding experience was delivering an opening remark on behalf of YOUNGO at the COP25 Presidency's Open Dialogue. The remark calls for mainstreaming citizen science, indigenous and traditional knowledge, as well as incorporation of them into policy making.
Despite the discouraging outcome of COP among parties, this experience enabled me to realize young people have the power make a substantial difference and deliver a message of hope. In the future, I hope to coordinate regional networks of youths in Asia."
Hannah Nicholas, MSc student in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management, adds:
"I found the experience both incredibly valuable and incredibly frustrating. There was a huge disconnect between the COP negotiations and the reality of the climate emergency…the greatest take-home message that I may share is that, despite the disappointing outcomes, we must all continue to engage with the climate movement.
The solutions to the climate emergency are there, the political will is not. We must stand behind the science to demand urgent political change. Use your voice, use your vote, call out politicians who are not doing enough. Continue to educate and raise awareness, maintaining hope that together we can create change."
Lisa Thalheimer, DPhil student in Geography and the Environment, reports:
"Together with [various partners], the Environmental Change Institute’s Lisa Schipper and I chaired a side event on displacement, human migration and climate change.
The session was very well attended. We discussed the consequences of environmental migration for Europe and deconstructed the widespread "threat" narrative, a meaningful step towards changing the securitisation narrative on climate mobilities.
COP25 gave me the opportunity to experience the laborious process of policy-making first-hand…[it] showcased that we as researchers need interdisciplinary collaboration and must communicate our research findings equally diversely to bring climate mobilities to the top of policy agendas globally."
By Laura Watson
What is a COP?
A Conference of Parties- it is the highest or decision-making authority of the Convention. Since 1995, there have been 25 COPs to discuss the Convention, based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
What is the UNFCCC?
The UNFCCC is an international treaty standing for United Nations Framework on Convention on Climate Change. The treaty has the ultimate objective to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system." It was ratified in 1994 following the Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, with 196 countries signing it, symbolising near universal aknowledgement of climate change being an issue. The Treaty ratified in 1994 does not include measures for enforcement.
What happens at a COP?
During these conferences, the implementation of the Convention is reviewed and discussed, along with discussion of any new laws needed to aid further implementation steps.
Who is involved?
How are the Parties organised?
Parties are traditionally grouped regionally into the Asian, Eastern European, Latin American and Carribbean, African and Western European States.
However, these regional groupings often don’t represent the significant interests of the Parties involved in the climate negotiations, thus other groupings also carry significance. These groups include:
Key COP outcomes
COP 3) 1997-Kyoto Protocol
COP 15) 2009-Copenhagen Accord
COP 16) 2010 Cancun
COP 17) 2011-Durban Alliance
COP 21) 2015-Paris Agreement
Cop 25) 2019- Madrid
By Bridget Stuart
Veganuary 2020 has put ‘Vegan’ at the top of our newsfeeds, at the front of our supermarket shelves and plastered it across shop fronts from Greggs to KFC. According to the Vegan Society, there are 600,000 vegans worldwide and this number only continues to grow. People become vegan for many reasons; faith, ethics, and ever increasingly, for the environment. But in the face of climate breakdown, could a plant-based diet for all, be the solution? And even if so, what are the key issues that must be addressed?
In terms of the environmental benefits, you can’t beat the vegan diet. A report by the Proceedings of the National Sciences of the USA predicts that global food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would fall by 70% by 2050 if the entire world went vegan (1). As an individual in the UK, a vegan diet reduces food-related carbon emissions by 40% compared to the average UK diet (1). With atmospheric CO2 now above 400ppm, worldwide veganism could be a fairly rapid solution for greatly reducing future emissions.
Also, the vegan diet is significantly more efficient than an animal diet, which uses 17 times more land, 14 times more water and 10 times more energy (2). In the UK, intensive animal agriculture uses 77% of agricultural land and produces only 18% of calories consumed (2). In terms of protein, beef requires 100 times more land to produce one unit of protein, in comparison to pulses, maize or rice (3). This represents a huge inefficiency and when the global population hits 10.5 billion in 2050, there will simply not be enough farmland. Research by Harvard University estimates that 40 million tonnes of food would be sufficient to feed every human annually, and yet the animals would need 760 million tonnes (19 times more) (4).
This presents a moral conundrum: meat for the few or food shortages for the many?
Globally enforced veganism could also bring huge economic savings. By 2050, it is estimated that the global economy would save £440 billion (1). This money could be funnelled into green innovation and technology. The World Health Organisation (2015) also reports potential annual savings of between $700-1000 billion, as a result of a projected decrease of 8.1 million deaths annually due to veganism (1). A healthy, balanced vegan diet can significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
However, the question we should be asking is “can we all go vegan?”. In poor or isolated communities, a strict vegan diet may not actually be possible. For example, there may not be sufficient raw plant-based resources available to provide all the energy and nutrients people need. If transport or storage and preparation facilities are also lacking, this could lead to serious health issues. For example, what would happen to the Innuits, who survive predominantly on only meat and eggs? Even in more urban societies, cooking a balanced vegan diet with natural ingredients from scratch is time-consuming and requires access to fresh fruit and vegetables, which can be expensive. Ready-made vegan food is also relatively expensive and may not necessarily be that sustainable, as it comes packaged in plastic, for example.
If hypothetically, the entire planet is capable of sustaining a healthy vegan diet, is it actually fair to suggest universal veganism is the solution? Many non-Western nations already eat significantly less meat than most Western developed countries, for religious, cultural or economic reasons. For example, in 2013 the average person in the US and Australia consumed over 100kg of meat. This figure dwarfs the meat intake of the average Ethiopian who eats around 7kg of meat per year (5). This level of consumption has not led us to the climate crisis, it’s the excessive consumption by western countries driving unsustainable farming practices that is the issue. In my opinion, it would therefore be grossly unjust to suggest every nation should go vegan in order to compensate for the excesses of the West.
Even if intensive farming is avoided in favour of extensive farming (the opposite of intensive), it is no more sustainable as it requires much more land, so veganism still wins here. However, there is a new contender; ferming. This yields so-called farm-free protein flour, which is produced from bacteria and water through a process called precision fermentation. The Finnish company ‘Solar Foods’ has calculated the protein they can manufacture is 20,000 times more efficient in terms of land than meat and 10 times more efficient than actual photosynthesis (6). Vegan or not, this technology will be hugely significant.
Therefore, despite being vegan myself and wholly believing it is the best choice of diet for our environment in this day and age, I do not think ‘we should all go vegan’. It is neither globally feasible, nor fair. Big meat-eating Western countries have a responsibility to rapidly reduce and regulate their own animal product market. This will shoulder a bit of the well-deserved blame, set an example and provide monetary pressure on global food trends.
What is ultimately required is the top-down regulatory change of the intensive agriculture system and a restructuring of the Western economy and Western ideals surrounding meat. As unrealistic as this may seem however, there is hope. As lab cell-cultured meat and bacteria-cultured protein develops, a solution which doesn’t require ‘conventional’ veganism at all is perhaps on the horizon.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.