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A Plant Based Treaty in Scotland?

Edinburgh becomes Europe’s first capital city to endorse the call for a Plant Based Treaty in response to the climate emergency
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Street sign for the historic Grassmarket area of Edinburgh's Old Town

The City of Edinburgh Council has endorsed the Plant Based Treaty, becoming the first Scottish city and capital in Europe to join the initiative to tackle food-related emissions from animal agriculture and attributed deforestation, a key driver of the climate emergency.

The proposed treaty is backed by 20 municipal governments worldwide, including Los Angeles and Haywards Heath.

Green councillor Steve Burgess first introduced the Plant Based Treaty to a Full Council Meeting in March 2022, where councillors unanimously voted to create an impact assessment on the implications of endorsing the Plant Based Treaty.

‘Edinburgh council itself now also has a fantastic opportunity to encourage far more plant-based eating and I look forward to the forthcoming council report on how we can do that. By declaring our endorsement, we are acknowledging that food systems are a main driver of the climate emergency and that a shift towards plant-based diets can go a huge way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-rich diets are also a ‘win-win-win’ for society: they have a lower environmental impact, significant health benefits, and reduce animal welfare impacts.’

Councillor, Scottish Green Party

Edinburgh’s footprint

Following the publication of the impact assessment report on Friday (13 Jan 2023), it was presented at the Policy and Sustainability Committee on Tuesday (17 Jan).
The report acknowledges ‘diets high in plant protein and low in meat and dairy make for lower greenhouse gas emissions, and that consequently, shifting consumption towards plant-based diets has a major mitigation potential’, and states, ‘Overall, the science is clear, meat and dairy consumption must reduce to achieve climate targets.’
The report shows food and diet account for 23% of Edinburgh’s consumption-based footprint, with 12% of these emissions from the consumption of meat.

The report states, ‘a shift to plant-based diets would therefore significantly reduce the city’s consumption-based emissions.’

‘Edinburgh has lived up to its reputation as a global climate leader by acknowledging the critical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the food system to achieve our climate targets. Promoting plant-based food across Edinburgh will help residents make informed choices that are better for the planet, personal health and animal protection.’

Communications director at Plant Based Treaty

Cutting emissions in cities

The report’s findings have been echoed loudly elsewhere, too. A 2019 report from the C40 network cited food as the biggest source of urban consumption-based emissions and noted that a move to a plant-based diet offers the biggest opportunity by far for emissions savings in cities.
During the committee meeting the Green Group tabled a number of amendments to the report, including the endorsement of the Plant Based Treaty and a request that the Council Leader writes to the First Minister and relevant Cabinet Secretary/Ministers outlining that the Council has endorsed the Treaty, and encouraging the Scottish Government to do so, too.

The Green Group also requested an action plan and timescale for implementing possible changes to Council activities following the endorsement of the treaty.

The amendment passed with 12 votes to five, with support from the Greens, Labour and Scottish National Party.

‘Green councillors very much welcome the decision by Edinburgh council to endorse the Plant Based Treaty as we proposed. Edinburgh council’s leader will now be writing to the First Minister of Scotland to encourage the Scottish Government to also express support for a Plant Based Treaty to be negotiated at a global level.’

Councillor, Scottish Green Party

A plant-based movement

Climate campaigners are calling on other towns and cities to follow Edinburgh’s lead and help create a national council-led movement calling for a shift towards healthier, more sustainable plant-based diets.

More than 240 councillors from almost 60 towns and cities in the UK have individually signed the Plant Based Treaty, from parties including Conservatives, Green Party, Labour and Liberal Democrats. 

20 MPs from the UK Parliament signed Early Day Motion 434, including the Scottish National Party’s Dr Lisa Cameron, Chris Stephens and David Linden.

The motion welcomes the Plant Based Treaty and calls for the UK to be a ‘world leader in recognising the negative impact of industrial animal agriculture on climate change and commit to developing a global strategy to transition towards more sustainable plant-based food systems.’

‘Everyone can join the movement by asking their local councillors to support the Plant Based Treaty and put forward a motion for their town, city or county to endorse. By developing plant-based food strategies to address consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions we can make great inroads in delivering the emissions cuts needed this decade to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.’

Communications director at Plant Based Treaty

Support for the Plant Based Treaty

The Plant Based Treaty is modelled on the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Edinburgh endorsed in March 2022, and inspired by treaties that have addressed the threats of ozone layer depletion and nuclear weapons.

Since its launch in August 2021, the initiative has received support from 70,000 individual endorsers, five Nobel laureates, IPCC scientists, more than 1000 NGOs and community groups and 1000 businesses, including Ecotricity, Linda McCartney Foods, Oceanic Preservation Society, Environmental Alliance Project, VIVA!, BOSH!, Animal Rebellion and chapters of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Extinction Rebellion.

The Plant Based Treaty has secured high-profile endorsements from celebrities, including Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney, who issued a written statement calling for politicians to support the Plant-Based Treaty.

They said: ‘We believe in justice for animals, the environment and people. That’s why we support the Plant Based Treaty and urge individuals and governments to sign it.’

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