University of Sunderland lecturer and climate change activist close to tears over what he witnessed at COP26
A climate change activist and lecturer at the city’s university has been almost reduced to tears after attending the COP26 summit in Glasgow.
Dr Alex Lockwood, Senior Lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Sunderland, is a passionate exponent of veganism and seven years ago wrote the book The Pig in Thin Air, drawing the connections between climate change and the food we eat.
But he said it’s the failure of the conference and world leaders to recognise this vital link which has left him feeling a sense of exasperation.
Dr Lockwood, who was at the conference representing the University and the Vegan Society, said: “This is probably the most depressed I’ve felt about the climate emergency in the last 20 years. I’ve spent time at this conference on the edge of tears.
"We know that global agriculture is responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the entire planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. The whole food system is responsible for one quarter. Say your house was losing 25 per cent of its energy through a big hole in the roof—you’d fix that hole in the roof, wouldn’t you?
“But while the food system causes 25 per cent of emissions, here at COP26 it’s less than 0.1 per cent of discussions. It doesn’t have its own dedicated day, like transport, even though agriculture releases more emissions than all aviation and transport combined. There is something seriously wrong with this picture.”
While much of the media scrutiny has focused on the carbon heavy methods of transport of delegates in attendance, Dr Lockwood feels this hypocrisy is equally evident in the food being consumed by those at the conference.
He added: “It has been widely reported the food at the conference is all labelled with its carbon footprint, so delegates can make a choice about the climate friendliness of their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“We know that some foods—especially beef and other red meats—have a huge climate footprint due to their methane emissions as well as the very long and inefficient life-cycles of production.
“For example, huge amounts of crops that could be fed direct to hungry humans are instead fed to animals. It takes around 31kg of feed to produce 1kg of beef. That’s terribly inefficient.
“At the conference, there are options for plant-based meals with low carbon footprints and meat-based meals with high carbon footprints. But even these good people—remember, people who work in and know about the dire consequences of climate change—are still purchasing the high impact breakfasts, lunch, and dinners.”
Dr Lockwood feels this sets a precedent in direct contrast to the message delegates are trying to relay to the public.
He said: “If they can’t be bothered to eat the more responsible meal, why should you? If a climate conference cannot offer the most climate friendly menu, why should you change your plans for Christmas dinner?
"This has maddened and saddened me, just as much as it did when our Prime Minister flew in a private jet from the conference back to London rather than take the train.”
Despite the presence of some of the world’s most powerful leaders, Dr Lockwood felt the most inspirational talk came a 14-year-old boy from Africa and a young woman from the Amazon, whose community is protecting the rainforest.