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Behind the scenes at Bonn, as we push to put plant-based food on the climate agenda

Every June, the idyllic city of Bonn, on the banks of the Rhine river in Germany, is transformed into an international hub of activity, as thousands of policymakers, government representatives, scientists, and civil-society groups from around the world gather to discuss the accelerating threat of climate change and potential solutions to help slow down the rise in global temperature.

What happens in Bonn and why does it matter?

While the Bonn Climate Change Conference is something of a satellite operation compared to the bigger Conference of the Parties (COP) that takes place later in the year, it is nonetheless a critical milestone in terms of setting the stage, agenda, and tone for how governments and global leaders will tackle our climate crisis.

Having recently joined ProVeg International’s UN Team, I supported my colleagues on the ground in order to deliver a clear message to Bonn: if we are going to halt and adapt to climate change and ensure that our planet is habitable for future generations (see the latest IPCC report), we need to transform the ways that we produce and consume food.

The science is clear and the pressure is mounting. Food systems alone are currently responsible for a third of total greenhouse gas emissions, globally. Even if all fossil fuel emissions were stopped immediately, we would still fail to limit global warming to the 1.5- and 2-degree targets of the Paris Agreement if we don’t tackle food production and consumption. At the same time, the agricultural sector faces an unprecedented threat from the impact of climate change, and there is an urgent need for farming practices to adapt in order to ensure that we can feed the global population in the future. However, translating the science of climate change into concrete political action is no easy feat and must take into account the complex realities of different countries and regions.

A plant-based diet is better for the planet

A plant-based diet can have numerous positive effects on the environment, including the preservation of biodiversity, more sustainable use of resources, and combatting climate change.

What did ProVeg do at the Bonn Climate Conference?

At Bonn, we spoke with agriculture negotiators from Africa, the EU, Latin America, and other regions, and closely engaged in the international negotiations around delivering sustainable agriculture. By meeting in person with country leaders and discussing policy positions, our team was able to strengthen these critical relationships and provide input for the draft agreement texts in order to push for the inclusion of plant-based foods in the negotiations.

Our panel discussion, which took place in front of a packed audience, saw food experts highlight how alternative proteins are a critical solution for the well-being of people, animals, and the planet. We held multiple press conferences, as well as a reception and a negotiators’ dinner, where we put delicious plant-based foods center stage – and on everyone’s plates. Our team also participated in the Global Stocktake process, focusing on enhancing collaboration among diverse partner groups in order to strengthen the food-transformation movement and speak with a united voice.

So, what’s it like to be on the ground at such pivotal global-policy summits? Our days were long, kicking off with back-to-back meetings with various partner groups and civil-society networks to exchange knowledge, share updates, and coordinate efforts. A quick lunch while replying to emails was followed by a busy afternoon delivering our own events, participating in more meetings with stakeholders, and attending negotiation sessions, side events, and press conferences – while also planning our upcoming activities.

In the evenings, the team and I attended dinners and informal receptions in and around the conference center. This is where some of the most important conversations and networking opportunities took place, so I readied myself with a strong coffee beforehand!

What was achieved in Bonn and what happens next?

Although the energy, passion, and commitment in the conference center was palpable, it was at times frustrating to witness the slow progress or lack of agreement in the negotiations process – a sober reminder of the complexity and interconnected nature of our global food systems. Disagreements repeatedly centered around inequalities in the financial and technical capacities of developed and developing nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The discussions also highlighted the large and diverse number of stakeholders involved in the agricultural sector, many of whom, especially across Africa and Asia, rely more heavily on agriculture to sustain their livelihoods, compared to other regions. To make matters even more complicated, food systems touches on numerous other issues, including health and human rights.

Despite these challenges, I was inspired by the resilience and positive pragmatism of the ProVeg team and their dedication to putting plant-based food firmly on the climate agenda. Instead of simply pointing out the problems, we, together with our partners, showcased how a shift to plant-based eating provides broad and effective solutions for a more sustainable and more equitable food system.

On my final day in Bonn, I spoke with a government representative from The Gambia. Cradling a ten-month-old child on her lap, she told me proudly how she always takes her son with her to these negotiations. I could clearly see the hope she had for a better future for her child. We will see if Bonn’s ‘big brother’ – COP28, which will take place in Dubai in December – will deliver the change we so urgently need.

Stephanie Maw is Policy Manager for UN and EU Affairs at ProVeg International.

ProVeg’s UN Team participated in the Bonn Climate Conference in June, where we advocated for more plant-based food systems. (Left to right: Stephanie Maw, Juliette Tronchon, Raphael Podselver, Lana Weidgenant, Falk Hemsing). Source: ProVeg.

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