Jordi Casamitjana, the author of the book “Ethical Vegan”, reviews the new report “Safe and Just” produced by the campaign The Plant Based Treaty, calling for a safe and just transition away from animal agriculture.
What else can we do?
I cannot remember the first time I heard a group of scientists warning everyone that the planet was getting too hot, and that humanity was the cause of it, but it was not that long ago. I was already an adult when this issue of global warming (as it used to be called) started to appear in mainstream media, but it did not take long for a new term to join people’s vocabularies: Climate Sceptics.
When the first prominent climate sceptics began to shout their denial of human-made climate heating, I thought that they were just extremists who would be quickly ignored by politicians and decision-makers. But that was not the case, because we entered a new phase in human history (one we keep entering every few centuries, and the last time we were in it lasted for over 1000 years) where superstition and fiction dominate over science and facts: the post-truth era. In this unsettling era — which we are still in the middle of— politicians and decision-makers (and the general public, to be honest) are more interested in charlatans, conspiracy theorists, and science sceptics, than in reputable scientists, educated scholars, and reasonable people. Unfortunately, this has a very depressing consequence: the many reports of reputable scientists warning us about the dangers of the current climate crisis, and how to solve it, have been mostly ignored.
However, there is hope, because after many years of trying to warn the world, and after beginning to see the effects of global heating on people’s lives, there are fortunately more and more people who are beginning to listen, but they are still trapped in this post-truth era, so not only they may still be a bit sceptical, but they may be very influenced by powerful industries that try to confuse them with lies. Even Al Gore, the former US vice president, led himself to fall under the influence of one of such deceiving industries, as when he started to join those who were raising the alarm, he wrongly omitted to point the finger at the animal agriculture industry, one of the top industries (if not the very top one) responsible for our global crises. So, in this post-truth era, even those who managed to escape the lie of climate sceptics (who do not believe the current climate crisis is humanmade) may still fall into the lie of the animal agriculture industry, which claims this is not their fault and entirely blames fossil fuels.
But what else can we do? We cannot give up and stop the work of scientists just because most politicians seem blind and deaf to the truth. We cannot stop analysing the data and producing reports to show what is going on just because most people don’t want to read them. We cannot stop developing the true solutions and talking about them every time we can, just because many try to silence us.
We need to keep supporting reputable scientists and amplifying their voices, and we need to keep pushing for the Vegan World, which is the solution to this and many other global crises, no matter how you look at it. Transitioning away from animal agriculture is the minimum we need to do to begin getting out of the mess we created, but we need to go further and create the Vegan World, which will be immune to the return of carnism domination — the real culprit.
There have been many reports that have been published about this, but there is a new one that I wanted to review because it looks very good and comprehensive. Drawing from the latest scholars’ approaches, this one shows a practical action plan about how to escape the current disastrous situation, with sound analysis and detailed proposals politicians could just take “off the rack”, and this one is credible because it was created by vegans — guaranteeing that they would not have been unduly influenced by the animal agriculture industry and their conclusions would not be watered-down.
At a press conference on 10th December 2023, COP28’s Food Agriculture and Water Day, the Campaign Plant Based Treaty, which has official UN Observer Status at COP28, launched a new report titled “Safe and Just”. This report, launched during the 2023 meeting in Dubai where nations were discussing the current climate crisis, called for climate negotiations to include a safe and just transition from an animal-based system to a plant-based system. This article is my review of it.
The Plant Based Treaty
Before I dive into the report itself, let’s talk a bit about who produced it. In 2021, the international Canadian-based vegan animal protection organisation Animal Save created a new groundbreaking grassroots campaign named The Plant Based Treaty.
Animal Save (also known as the Animal Save Movement) was founded in 2010 by Anita Krajnc in Toronto, and it was very much based on the concept of “bearing witness”, in this case, applied to the suffering of the victims of animal exploitation. Its “vigils” outside slaughterhouses became its trademark and were quickly replicated all over the world (in 2019, there were more than 4,000 vigils organized by 1,000 chapters in six continents). In consequence, the Animal Save Movement began to expand its scope and develop other campaigns, such as the Climate Save Movement, the Health Save Movement, and the Youth Climate Save Movement. Eventually, in the middle of the COVID crisis that disrupted the groups’ activism, they had the idea for a new campaign trying to combine all the others: The Plant Based Treaty Campaign.
Modelled on the popular Fossil Fuel Treaty, the Plant Based Treaty aims to halt the widespread degradation of critical ecosystems caused by animal agriculture; to promote a shift to healthier, sustainable plant-based diets; and to actively reverse damage done to planetary functions, ecosystem services and biodiversity. They are urging scientists, individuals, groups, businesses, and cities to endorse this call to action and put pressure on national governments to negotiate an international Plant Based Treaty. Vegan FTA has proudly endorsed this treaty.
The Plant Based Treaty has three core principles: Relinquish (no land use change, ecosystem degradation or deforestation for animal agriculture), Redirect (an active transition away from animal-based food systems to plant-based systems, and Restore (actively restore key ecosystems, particularly restoring forests and rewilding landscapes). And the new report they created very much builds on these three pillars.
Anita Krajnc, co-author of the Safe and Just report and global campaign coordinator at The Plant Based Treaty, said at the time of the report’s launch, “COP28 needs to put dietary change at the centre of climate talks. Global per capita meat, dairy and egg consumption have been accelerating since the 1950s, contributing to the breach of five planetary boundaries, specifically climate change, land-use change, biodiversity, phosphorus and nitrogen, and water use. We need a bold action plan to transition to a plant-based food system before the next Global Stock Take at COP30. This requires action at all levels to thrive through food security, Indigenous rights, banning live export, financing plant-based food, massive public education campaigns and greening cities.”
Nicola Harris, co-author of the Safe and Just report, said, “We need local, national, and international cooperation to reduce food impacts with plant-based diets. Cities can live up to their reputation as global climate champions by integrating plant-based food strategies into their existing Climate Action Plans, and interlinked programs that address biodiversity, food poverty, and community health.”
Transgressing Planetary Boundaries
The Safe and Just report, produced by Anita Krajnc and Steven George (Plant Based Treaty Science Ambassador) comes in two forms, a 20-page Executive Summary and a 145-page full report, which is a dual format I have often used when I produced reports as the Executive Summary is ideal for lobbying (and lobbying is the main purpose of the report, as it shows specific actions and policies that should be taken by politicians). The conclusion chapter of the shorter report begins with the following:
“There has been a dramatic rise in global per capita meat consumption since the 1950s as part of the ‘great acceleration’ discussed in Rockström and Gaffney’s Breaking Boundaries. Between 1980 and 2023, meat production has grown by about 50 per cent in this short timeframe. The result of this increase has greatly impacted the planetary boundaries in the outer rim of Kate Raworths’s doughnut economics framework, specifically climate change, land-use change, biodiversity, phosphorus and nitrogen, freshwater use, and ocean acidification, among others.”
The Swedish scientist Johan Rockström is a co-director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany and was formerly the executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. Owen Gaffney is the director of international media and strategy at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and he is also a journalist, filmmaker, writer, and engineer, who co-founded the Future Earth Media Lab. Rockström and Gaffney wrote the following in their 2021 book “Breaking Boundaries, The Science of Our Planet”:
“The way that we produce food in the world is the single largest reason that we have transgressed planetary boundaries. It is the single largest threat to the stability of the planet and our life support systems, from freshwater, pollinators, and soil health, to rainfall generation, and quality of air and water. Food production is putting our future at risk”.
The Safe and Just report begins by picking up on this concept of breaking planetary boundaries and developing it further to show what are the root problems that we need to solve, as a solution will never be effective if only touches superficial symptoms. Specifically, it identifies nine key boundaries that humanity should not cross, which represent the nine major problems we have to overcome. These are Climate change, Biosphere Integrity, Land System change, Freshwater change, Biogeochemical flows, Ocean acidification, Stratospheric ozone depletion, Atmospheric aerosol loading, and Novel entities.
The urgency of the report in addressing these issues comes from the fact that five climate tipping elements are already in a danger zone within a 1.1-1.5°C temperature threshold and a further five are at risk under the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-2.0°C warming limit. In consequence, surpassing these thresholds may trigger reinforcing feedback mechanisms, which could make them collapse, and this in turn could lead to runaway impacts destabilising the entire planet Earth ecosystem. The authors of the report state that our global food system, with animal agriculture as a central issue, significantly affects all nine planetary boundaries, and this is why we must prioritise its transition toward a fully plant, fungus, algae, and bacteria food system, away from an animal-based food system.
The report warns that even if fossil fuel emissions ended today, global food emissions alone would make the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit impossible and the 2°C target difficult to realise. However, there is a solution — one that vegans have already been offering for decades.
The Vegan Doughnut Economics
After having spelt out the problems that need solving, the report offers practical solutions to address them. It creates a model inspired by the concept of Raworth’s Doughnut Economics. Kate Raworth is an Oxford economist and human rights advocate who adopted the philosophy of veganism in 2021. She is a senior associate at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and a Professor of Practice at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. In 2017, Raworth published “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist”, where she presented the model of Doughnut Economics. This is a visual framework shaped like a doughnut for sustainable development, combining the concept of planetary boundaries with the complementary concept of social boundaries. The centre hole of the model depicts the proportion of people who lack access to life’s essentials (such as healthcare, education, or equity) while the ring represents the ecological ceilings that life depends on and must not be surpassed.
The Plant Based Treaty’s adaptation of her Doughnut Economics model is concerned with finding ways to live in the green “safe and just” space within ecological limits while allowing communities to thrive in building the vegan world (which will solve all our major global crises, not just our climate crisis) with a transformation of the food system. The report says the following about this:
“Food policy is around 30 years behind energy, and with so little time remaining, we need a paradigm shift and action plans at all levels: individual, institutional, business, city, country and global.
Our report presents the missing action plan that can reduce the 30-year shortfall by incorporating the Plant Based Treaty model into Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics model which identifies social boundaries needed to meet basic human needs equitably. In our adaptation of Raworth’s model, we focus on the food system and widening the lens to incorporate interspecies justice alongside intergenerational and intragenerational justice.
Plant Based Treaty has three core principles known as the 3Rs. Under these 3Rs, there are 40 detailed proposals for a plant-based transition which would reduce greenhouse gases, land use, ocean acidification, freshwater withdrawals and eutrophication and enable us to live safely and equitably within our planetary boundaries.”
The report lays out many proposals, which are bundled into the following 12 policy areas: To represent “Relinquish”, No land use change, Indigenous protection, and Ban live exports; to represent “Redirect”, Food security, Education, Health, Transparency and honest labelling, and Finance plant-based systems; to represent “Restore”, Reforestation and rewilding, Greening cities, Food justice, and Land equity.
Some of the ambitious (but still necessary) recommendations of the report are the taxation of meat, a global ban on live animal exports, cities leading the way by instituting plant-based policies within city government institutions (22 cities have already endorsed the treaty), protecting at least half of our terrestrial realm in each of our 782 ecoregions, Increasing tree level cover from the European average of 14.9% to 30%, the world’s biggest banks stopping investing billions into animal agriculture, and governments ending the subsidies to the animal agriculture industry. Many of these proposals seem sensible and feel very common sense to me, but I know many politicians may find them too radical and revolutionary. However, a revolution is what we need to correct what we have been doing to the planet (and we need to do it soon before it is too late), so I think we should be bold and not water down any of the steps we must take.
The report concludes:
“We incorporated recommendations from Plant Based Treaty’s 3Rs and dozens of detailed proposals by zeroing in on 12 specific policy areas. The Plant Based Treaty sets forth an Earthshot trail for transitioning to a plant-based food system and rewilding the Earth to lead us to a green, ‘safe and just’ space. We need a global agreement and local implementations of the 3Rs: R1, relinquish the expansion of animal agriculture; R2, redirect major economic resources and large-scale public education towards plant-based food systems; and R3, restore and rewild to reverse damage to critical ecosystems and their functions and services.”
This report is a good practical blueprint to begin building the vegan world, setting up its foundations as far as food is concerned. It was not drawn as a blue-sky thinking exercise, but it was built from the modern models that prestigious scientists and thinkers have already developed. In a way, it marries the imagined vegan world we vegans often dream about, with the current messy world we are living in, building a solid bridge between the two. One that politicians and decision-makers can take to begin shifting their attitudes toward brave constructive forward-thinking solutions, free from the blind sighted navel-gazing rotten policies of the past that will sink them into a thick swamp of shame — taking the rest of us with them.
We must keep raising the alarm, gather fresh data, draw realistic plans, write comprehensive reports, and support ambitious lobbying campaigns such as the Plant Based Treaty if we want our message to cut through the thick fog of this post-truth era.
What else can we do but continue building the vegan world with the truth?