Leaders and activists from around the world gathered in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt on Sunday to kick off the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). One person who will not be at this year’s international conference is Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is skipping the event intentionally to bring awareness to the lack of meaningful change that leaders failed to implement at previous COP conferences. 

The 19-year-old explained her reasons for not attending the conference during this year’s London Literature Festival, where she began the launch of her new book The Climate Book—which she created with input from 100 contributors in an effort to tell a holistic story about the climate crisis.

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Thunberg delivered a speech at the literature festival that focused on how the global North’s idea of “normal” is built upon exploitation and that the disasters experienced by the global South are a product of this norm. “It is a symptom of a much larger crisis. The sustainability crisis,” she said. “It has its roots in racist, oppressive extractivism that is exploiting both people and the planet to maximize short-term profits for a few.” 

When asked if she would attend the COP27 conference, Thunberg explained her stance. “I’m not going to COP27 for many reasons, but the space for civil society this year is extremely limited,” Thunberg said. “The COPs are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing.” 

Thunberg explained that the strategies discussed at these conferences are meant mostly to be educational and are implemented far too gradually in light of the severity of the climate crisis. “So as it is, the COPs are not really working unless of course we use them as an opportunity to mobilize…” she said.

All of the profits from The Climate Book will be donated to the Greta Thunberg Foundation to be allocated toward supporting climate activsm. 

Greta Thunberg’s climate activism

Thunberg is known for her unapologetic approach to educating the public about the urgency of fighting the climate crisis. In 2018, then only 15 years old, she ditched school to organize a one-person climate protest in front of the Swedish Parliament. Since then, Thunberg went vegan, stopped using air transport, and has inspired millions of young people around the world to take climate action in her “Fridays For Future” protests. 

Last year, the COP26 was held in Glasgow, where Thunberg joined thousands of young people in protest of climate inaction. Prior to the event, world leaders met for the G7 (Group of Seven) summit at the luxury Carbis Bay Hotel in Cornwall, England where they dined on a variety of animal products, including sirloin steak, lobster, and Cornish cheeses, while being entertained by an air show.  

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“The climate and ecological crisis is rapidly escalating. G7 pours fantasy amounts into fossil fuels as CO2 emissions are forecast for the 2nd biggest annual rise ever,” Thunberg posted to social media after the event. “But the G7 leaders really seem to be having a good time presenting their empty climate commitments and repeating old unfulfilled promises. Of course this calls for a steak-and-lobster BBQ celebration while jet planes perform aerobatics in the sky above the G7 resort.”

At COP26, menus featured carbon emissions information to help guests make informed decisions. However, the conference continued to serve climate-damaging foods such as lamb and beef. Overall, more than half (58 percent) of the COP26’s “plant-forward” menu contained animal products. 

During COP26, Thunberg gave a speech at Glasgow’s George Square, where Fridays for Future Scotland organizers were gathered.

“This is no longer a climate conference, this is the global North greenwash festival,” Thunberg said. “A two-week long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah.” 

Leading up to COP27 and beyond, Thunberg is using her social media platforms to uplift the voices of other youth climate activists, particularly those from countries from the global South that have already experienced widespread devastation due to the climate crisis. Last week, Thunberg’s Fridays for Future hit its 220th week of striking to fight the climate crisis. 

“We have to abandon the idea that people in power will come to our rescue,” Thunberg said during her most recent speech. “They do not have the situation under control, despite what they might say. They have proven time and time again that their priorities are somewhere else entirely.” 

Will COP27 be different? 

While there is no fix-all solution to the climate crisis, time and time again, research has shown that animal agriculture contributes the lion’s share of the global food system’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, conversations around food-related climate crisis solutions have been mostly absent from previous COP events.

This year, COP27 changed that with the introduction of the Food Systems Pavilion which is co-hosted by nine organizations, including United States-based nonprofit Good Food Institute (GFI). During COP27, these groups will highlight the climate impact of the global food system and encourage world leaders to explore meat alternatives—both from plant-based and cell-based sources—as food solutions to the climate crisis. 

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In an effort to spark transformative change in the global food system, these solutions will be brought to COP27 by speakers from plant-based meat-maker Impossible Foods, vegan dairy brand Oatly, cultivated seafood company Finless Foods, along with nonprofits the Good Food Institute, ProVeg International, and more.

And cultivated meat will make its first appearance on the menu at a COP event thanks to a joint partnership between Singapore (the only country in the world to grant regulatory approval to cultivated meat) and GOOD Meat (the cultivated meat arm of California-based Eat Just that gained that approval for its cultivated chicken in 2020). 

“We hope our guests at COP27 find their cultivated chicken meals both delicious and thought-provoking and they leave the summit with a new appreciation for the role food innovation can play in combating the global climate crisis,” Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, said in a statement. “There is no better place to launch our next version than right here at the world’s most consequential climate change gathering.”

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At the Singapore Pavillion from November 12 to November 14, GOOD Meat will serve meals made with the latest version of its cultivated chicken while educating leaders about the climate benefits of transforming meat production away from a model that is based on raising animals en masse for food. 

“Singapore was the first country to allow the sale of meat made without tearing down a single forest or displacing an animal’s habitat,” Tetrick said. “And we look forward to other countries following in their footsteps.”

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