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COP26 - The first carbon labelled climate conference

In November 2021, Klimato teamed up with Levy UK+Ireland to carbon label the food at COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Since 1995, the UN has been bringing together almost every country on Earth for annual climate summits. For the 2021 edition, the parties came together with a goal to make enhanced commitments towards mitigating climate change. 

COP26 was the first UN Climate Change Conference to have food carbon labels, and we are incredibly proud to have worked together with sustainability-pioneers Levy UK+Ireland to help raise awareness directly to the world’s decision makers about the climate impact of the global food system.

An ambitious sustainability plan

Levy UK+Ireland contacted Klimato a few weeks ahead of the conference because they wanted an easy tool to calculate the carbon emissions of each dish on their menu. As pioneers on the sustainable catering scene, they have an ambitious sustainability plan of reducing their carbon emissions by 80% by 2027. And as the catering firm of a UN climate conference, Levy UK+Ireland wanted to go above and beyond what was expected and show to their staff and delegates what the future of catering must look like.

The Klimato team and Levy UK+Ireland worked closely together and within just four weeks, everything from the calculations, marketing material for their menus and website was completed and labels displayed on the menus. A successful start of what was going to be a fruitful collaboration, as Levy UK+Ireland are now using Klimato on all venues across the British Isles to set goals, cut emissions and show progress to their guests and employees.

The Klimato team at COP26

COP26 recently published a Sustainability Report. Here are the core objectives they set out to achieve for the conference related to food:

A plant forward menu: 50% of menu choices to be vegan and vegetarian, and reducing the meat content of meat-based dishes, through replacement with plant-based foods

A lower carbon menu: calculating the carbon footprint of each menu option, and providing a higher proportion of options with a lower carbon footprint

All menu items offered at venues inside the Scottish Event Campus came with an indication of the meals’ carbon footprint and our low-medium-high indicators based on the UN Sustainability Goals for 2050. Menus were displayed at all catering locations and tills, communicating to all delegates the extent with which food impacts the climate and the value of knowing a food’s carbon footprint. 

Let’s deep dive and have a look at how successful Klimato’s carbon labels were!

The delegates of the Blue Zone and Green Zone respectively had 61% and 70% of vegetarian dishes. This is phenomenal and goes to show that behaviour may have been influenced by the visible carbon labelling on the menus, indicating that meat, and particularly beef containing options, had the highest carbon footprint of all menu choices.

Providing this information enabled delegates to make informed choices about their meals, directing them to the lower carbon plant-based items. This approach resulted in vegetarian and plant-based dishes accounting for the majority of retail sales from over 125,000 menu items. In comparison, beef featured just twice on the 60 dish menu and made up only 3% of sales. The carbon impact of catering was reduced in both the Blue Zone and the Green Zone by increasing the number of vegetarian meal options.

65% of the menu options at the Blue Zone had a low carbon footprint of between 0.1-0.5 kg CO2e which really reinforces the sustainability efforts Levy UK+Ireland had put in for COP26. Consumer demand also drove this and it’s reassuring to know that more plant-based options outsold meat options at the conference. 

So how did this support Levy UK+Ireland's goal to reduce emissions? Selection of meat-free options resulted in an approximate saving of 108 tCO2e across the full preparation and delivery phases for COP26. A giant leap towards achieving their sustainability plan, while also raising awareness among the world's leaders. That's what we call impact.

The importance dietary changes to reduce emissions

In the figure below, according to the IPCC, changing our habits greatly contributes to reducing carbon emissions. Food is the sector whose emissions are the most impacted by consumer habits, especially by reducing our meat consumption and switching to a more plant-based diet.

We at Klimato are honoured to have played a part alongside Levy UK+Ireland in aiding COP26 reach its sustainability goals and change delegates' perceptions of food's impact on the climate. Right after the conference ended, the UN Special Envoy called for a focus on food at next climate talks (COP27 in Egypt), to limit global heating and prevent future famines.

We like to believe our work together with Levy UK+Ireland had a little influence on this decision.

Curious to know how global media reported on the carbon labelled menus? We have summarised the buzz around the carbon labels from news sites, radio programmes and social media here.