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Food habits must change to meet Paris Climate Agreement, Oxford-led study finds

According to an Oxford-led study published in the journal Science, even if the world significantly reduces its reliance on fossil fuels, it will still be unable to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals if the global food system is not transformed as well.

What we eat, how much we eat, how much is wasted, and how food is produced need to change drastically by 2050, if we want to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels. 

“The good news is, there are many achievable ways rapidly to reduce food emissions if they are acted on quickly. These include both raising crop yields and reducing food loss and waste, but the most important is for individuals to shift towards predominantly plant-based diets,” said Dr Michael Clark of The Oxford Martin School and Nuffield Department of Population Health, who is the lead author on the paper.

Reducing the carbon emissions and biodiversity impact of the University’s food system is one of the nine priority areas of the University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy. The Strategy has the ultimate goal of achieving net zero carbon by 2035 and addressing the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. 

The Oxford Student Union, which has played a key role in shaping this Strategy, is also part of the Sustainability Working Group of the Conference of Colleges. They call on colleges to ensure that their practices are as sustainable as possible, while supporting Environment and Ethics reps in pushing for sustainability in food systems in their colleges through ongoing training and the sharing of best practices.

Some colleges have been taking the lead in offering plant-based food options. Based on votes from over 250 students, staff and faculty within the University, Mansfield College was voted the best college for vegetarian and vegan food. As a result, it ranked first in the 2019 Veggie Norrington Table, published by the Oxford University Animal Ethics Society. Notably, Mansfield had also come out on top in the 2016 ranking. 

According to the Bursar of Mansfield College, whose remarks are published on the Veggie Norrington Table website, “The head chef is fully trained in vegetarian cooking, having been on several specialist courses. All other chefs have then been trained to prepare vegetarian meals using the experience of the head chef.”

Students can also get involved directly in tackling the climate crisis. As part of Oxford SU’s Planet Pledge 2020, students can pledge to do one thing that contributes towards sustainable living. Ben Farmer, VP Charities and Community of Oxford SU, said: “Plant-based diets form just one part of sustainable living, and as part of Planet Pledge, students have got a fun chance to have a go at making a sustainable change that they feel comfortable with.”

Students can find more information and sign up for the Oxford SU Planet Pledge here. Staff and students can visit this website to provide feedback on the University’s draft Environmental Sustainability Strategy.

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