How “We Are Still In” cities and counties can include food in climate action
Dear We Are Still In city and county leaders,
We commend you as members of the We Are Still In coalition for addressing the climate crisis head-on, especially in light of the federal government’s failure to lead on this issue. Your commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the local level is vital to meet the Paris Agreement goals and to ensure the wellbeing of citizens in your communities and across the globe.
We write to urge your leadership in addressing a major contributor to climate change that is too often ignored: meat and dairy consumption. Animal agriculture has a particularly high climate impact, emitting an astounding ~14.5 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that stem from human activity, more than the entire transportation sector. With global demand for animal products projected to increase 70% by 2050, research shows that global emissions from food consumption alone could nearly exceed the 2°C limit established in the Paris Agreement. While many farmers and ranchers are making strides toward improving production practices that will mitigate agriculture’s impact on climate change, there is an emerging consensus that supply-side strategies alone cannot combat greenhouse gas emissions associated with the projected rise in meat consumption.
Cities and counties have led on climate action — by making buildings energy-efficient, increasing electric vehicles in city fleets, and sending less waste to landfills — but all these efforts won’t be sufficient to halt climate change if we do not also significantly slash emissions embedded in the food we eat. As a major meat-eating country consuming more than twice the global average, the U.S. has a major role to play (FAOSTAT, 2013).
Overconsumption of animal products is harming our health in addition to our planet. Excessive consumption of red and processed meats is associated with increased risks of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, while plant-based diets can help decrease the risks of all three. As large population centers with vast purchasing power, cities and counties must do their part to shift consumption patterns toward foods that generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Therefore, we urge you to develop climate mitigation strategies that will help shift consumption toward healthier and climate-friendly foods.
There are multiple pathways forward, including:
· adopting a climate-friendly food procurement policy that will shift food purchases of municipally-owned and operated institutions (e.g. schools and hospitals) as well as food served on city property (e.g. stadiums and convention centers) away from emissions-intensive animal-based foods towards more plant-based options;
· including food consumption and other “scope 3” consumption emissions in your jurisdiction’s greenhouse gas accounting and reporting;
· revising or developing nutritional standards that align sustainability and health concerns, and reduce portion sizes of meat and dairy;
· encouraging restaurants and private sector food operations to adopt climate-friendly menus and use behavioral science insights to encourage “plant-forward” options, including through changing cafeteria layout, menu design, and food pricing and promotion;
· declaring municipal Meatless Mondays to encourage local businesses, institutions, and citizens to promote plant-based foods; and
· implementing creative advertising campaigns utilizing city property that educate your residents about the powerful climate change impacts of their food choices.
This is not without precedent. In the U.S., at least 16 cities and counties have recognized the essential role of reducing meat and dairy consumption in combatting climate change in their Climate Action Plans. For example, Portland, OR’s climate action plan commits to increasing institutional purchases of healthy, climate-friendly food at public meetings, events, and in government facilities. Santa Monica, CA’s climate action plan commits the municipality to reducing meat and dairy purchases by 15 percent and encourages large institutions to participate. Cincinnati, OH’s climate action plan acknowledges that “if 10% of Cincinnatians ate meat one less day per week, CO2 emissions would be reduced by 75,000 tons per year.”
Local leaders have an opportunity and a responsibility to leverage this largely untapped area of climate change action by promoting availability and consumption of foods that are better for the earth and our health. We stand ready to share technical resources, tools, and strategies to support expansion of more healthful and climate-friendly food offerings.
Thank you for your consideration.
American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Art & Science of Health Promotion Institute
Bridgeport Food Policy Council
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Food Safety
Center for People, Food and Environment
City of San Luis Obispo
Coalition for Healthy School Food
Compassion Over Killing
Factory Farming Awareness Coalition
Food Democracy Now
Food Revolution Network
Friends of the Earth
The Good Food Institute
Health Care Without Harm
Humane Society of the United States
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College Columbia University
Lexicon of Sustainability
Maine Farm to School Network
Maine Farm to Institution Network
The Monday Campaigns/Meatless Monday
Natural Resources Defense Council
Organic Consumers Association
The Perennial Farming Initiative
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Plant Power Task Force
Plant Based Foods Association
The Pollinator Project Foundation
Rainforest Action Network
Science and Environmental Health Network
Slow Food USA
Small Planet Institute
Soil 4 Climate
Sustainable Food Center
A Well-Fed World