COLUMNIST: Leaders should lead by example, and go vegan

When world leaders gathered in Dubai for COP28--the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference--animal advocates mobilized with a climate wake-up call: Not only does ditching meat, eggs and dairy save animals. It's also the key to saving the world.

Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, feed, energy and water. And by some estimates, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the world's transportation systems combined. Although COP28 had a "mostly vegan" menu, that isn't enough. World leaders must lead by example by making all future COP and UN events fully vegan and by going vegan themselves.

Why would a conference about protecting the planet serve any foods that scientists have long warned cause great harm to the climate? That's as hypocritical and counter-productive as the use of child labor at a conference on child protection.

Perhaps it had something to do with the hordes of meat and dairy industry representatives who attended COP28. These industries know that the public is becoming aware of the impact of animal-based agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions, and they're desperate to advance the interests of their methane-spewing factory farms.

The evidence is clear: Embracing vegan foods contributes to resource efficiency, mitigates the climate catastrophe and conserves biodiversity. The production of vegan foods results in fewer planet-heating emissions, less water pollution and less land destruction than that of animal-based foods.

A vegan food system could feed substantially more people than an animal-based one, which would help reduce food insecurity. Plus the health benefits of vegan eating support overall well-being: Going vegan is associated with a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, and it's linked to increased longevity.

We'll surely see more from activists all over the world as they push for a fully vegan conference that aligns with its stated environmental objectives. But the battle extends far beyond the COP conference--it's a clash between an archaic food system that helped get the world into this mess and a simple solution that can get it out.

On one side, meat, egg and dairy promoters are pushing misinformation. On the other side, environmentalists, animal advocates and climate experts are armed with loads of evidence revealing that going vegan is the only responsible choice. Let's hope world leaders listen to the truth and take concrete, meaningful steps forward.

It's already happening in some countries. The Danish government recently published a groundbreaking national action plan outlining how the country can transition toward a vegan-centered food system. It's a compelling model for other nations--including the U.S.

Rebecca Libauskas is a climate research specialist for the PETA Foundation.

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