City leaders urged to make plant-based food the norm in public procurement

From Wednesday (19 October), Mayors will gather in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the annual World Mayors Summit put on by the C40 Cities network. We are expecting announcements on new climate targets, plans and initiatives, which will set the scene for cities’ participation in COP27 in Egypt next month.

Ahead of the meeting, an open letter penned by some 200 groups and businesses has been released, calling for a focus on food. The letter praises the work of C40 to date in helping cities map ways to decarbonise their energy and transport networks, and urges the application of these learnings to reduce emissions from the food and drink produced in, and consumed in, cities.

The letter draws on the conclusion of a previous report from C40, about consumption patterns in a world aligned with the Paris Agreement’s ambition to limit the global temperature increase on pre-industrial levels at 1.5C. That report included a scenario in which average per-capita meat consumption was reduced from 58kg annually to 16kg annually by 2030, with a focus on reducing red meat consumption.

A string of best practices are set out in the letter, which argues that “cities have substantial jurisdiction and influence over food emissions”. Part of this influence is exerted in public procurement and catering; the letter calls on city leaders to serve plant-based foods by default at city council events and through other public sector venues, such as hospitals.

The letter also recommends the introduction of eco-labelling programmes, whether voluntary or mandatory, to make consumers more aware of the carbon impact of their choices. Eco-labels are already being used by food manufacturers like Upfield, caterers like Compass Group and restaurants like Wahaca, on a voluntary basis.

Alongside these moves, the letter advocates for public information campaigns about the environmental and health benefits of eating less meat and dairy. It also floats the idea of fruit and vegetable vouchers, where appropriate, for low-income communities, coupled with lower VAT for plant products.

The letter also looks at the influence cities can leverage through out-of-home advertising and through their investments.

“With the renewable energy transition now underway in most major cities, reducing overreliance on animal-sourced food is the next frontier in tackling climate change,” said Compassion in World Farming’s campaigns manager Allie Molinaro. “If C40 leaders are serious about upholding the Paris Agreement, they must turn their attention toward transitioning to a plant-based food system.”

Other signatories of the letter include the Humane Society International, the Better Food Foundation and Plant-Based Health Professionals UK.

Buenos Aires, the location for this week’s meeting, has notably already endorsed the Plant Based Treaty. This Treaty calls on organisations to implement measures to end deforestation and land-use change for agriculture and to support the transition to a plant-based food system.

Last week, the UK House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee published a major report outlining how the national 2050 net-zero target will not be met without behaviour change in areas such as home heating, transport and diets. The report warned that the Conservative Party’s reluctance to run behaviour change campaigns in these topics could make the transition more disorderly.

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