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Nov 28, 2023, 6:01pm EST
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Will COP28 convince rich countries to eat less meat?

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REUTERS/Amr Alfiky
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Wealthy nations will be directed to encourage their citizens to eat less meat as part of the agenda at COP28, the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, Bloomberg reports.

Climate change activists have long pushed for people to switch to plant-based diets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the overconsumption of meat.

But there are doubts about COP’s ability to effect meaningful change in global meat consumption patterns and for such recommendations to actually be adopted by developed countries like the U.S.

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COP28’s major focus on food for the first time is “long overdue,” writes environment academic Tim Benton for Chatham House, given that food systems account for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. But it will be tricky to get countries to agree to real changes in their food consumption patterns because they are wrapped up in the politics of “economic development and polarized discourse,” Benton argues. Reducing demand for meat runs counter to many countries’ economic growth plans, he writes, while others have ideological objections to government intervention in changing consumer behavior. In the U.S., for example, an AP poll found that the vast majority of Americans are opposed to introducing a tax on meat products in an effort to combat climate change.

Some sustainable food advocates are skeptical of COP28’s intention to address the root causes of food system problems. One such advocate from Slow Food noted that the proposed agenda doesn’t include concrete measures or targets to effect transformative changes in food systems. He predicts that the debate at the climate summit “will ignore the complexity of food systems” including issues like power imbalances, industrial food production, and climate change’s disproportionate effect on the Global South. However, countries in the Global South still view COP28 as a “beacon of hope” for addressing their problems like climate finance, technology, and dependence on fossil fuels, argues Oxford academic Manal Shehabi.

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