“Could do better” is the familiar line in every slacker’s school report. The equivalent summation of the UK’s response to the climate emergency is “Must do better”… and must eat better.
In a report to parliament on the actions being taken by our leaders in defence of the environment, the government’s own Climate Change Committee details the efforts being made to meet the legally binding commitment to reach net zero by 2050 – and it is damning. Among many negative points, the CCC observes that the government has “set out no plans to support the public to shift to a lower-carbon diet”.
The outgoing chairman of the committee, Lord Deben, says in his introduction to the report, Progress in reducing emissions, “the true test of leadership is delivery. And here, I am more worried.” He notes a “hesitation to commit fully to the key pledges” agreed at COP26, which the UK itself hosted in Glasgow in 2021, and adds: “This will not win the fight.”
He notes too a “curious situation”: a government that has published more details on its climate policy than ever before, yet is unwilling to do anything to pursue its goals. Deben adds that it is time to commit to key dates and policies; to marry up farming and goals on climate and food security; to phase out fossil fuels; and to provide Britons with positive choices that benefit the planet.
Perhaps the most of important of those is the access to a greener, healthier plant-based diet. The CCC notes that people are eating less beef and lamb than they were in 2009, indicating an “apparent willingness … to make dietary changes that suggests … a 28 per cent decrease in meat consumption by 2035 is achievable”, there is no indication yet that those targets will be reached. The availability of meat in shops has still not decreased, meaning, the CCC says: “Further policy intervention on diets is therefore required.”
The government has “set out no plans to support the public to shift to a lower-carbon diet”– as the CCC advised it should have done by last year. The goal is to encourage a 20 per cent shift away from all meat and dairy by 2030, rising to 35 per cent by 2050, which would bring health benefits to people and reduce the methane associated with livestock farming.
Nor has there been any movement on alternative proteins. In its sadly necessary section on “Additional options we recommend for consideration if progress is off track”, the CCC suggests at the top: “increased innovation in diet.” The government, it says, could cut harmful emissions equivalent to an extra two million tonnes of carbon dioxide by throwing its weight behind lab-grown meat.
It may be forced to act soon, however. A judicial review of the government’s “illegal” failure to adopt the measures set out in last year’s disappointing National Food Strategy will be heard in October after an appeal court win by the campaign group Feedback.
As Deben concludes, contemplating the “error” of not committing wholeheartedly to net zero: “All of this is still within our grasp, but this is a key moment to remake the arguments for faster progress.”