Despite plant-based campaign, hunger for sustainable food systems was unsated at COP26

18 November 2021 by Sean Desouza
blog author

​While 20,000 delegates at COP26 tucked into dishes from menus that contained 40 per cent plant-based dishes, one butcher was keeping a watchful eye.

Founder of The Vegetarian Butcher, Jaap Korteweg, launched a campaign in the run-up to the Conference of Parties, in the hope of highlighting the environmental impact that animal meat consumption inflicts on the planet.

The ‘Elephant in the Room’ campaign was designed to raise awareness and generate action from leaders and policymakers in a bid to encourage more consumers to choose a plant-based diet and reduce methane emissions.

The campaign asked for people to use its AR-filter on Instagram to show a life-sized elephant in their own room to remind the United Nations and global leaders to face the elephant in the room.

Animal agriculture plays a significant role in the fight against climate change, with the livestock industry contributing between 14.5 per cent and 18 per cent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide), according to the United Nations and University of Oxford.

As a result, scientists and policy advisors worldwide have recommended that animal meat consumption is significantly reduced, although a firm policy in supporting this is limited.

According to the campaign, the animal meat consumption issue is lacking in European policy and was notably absent from the COP26 agenda, despite sustainable food systems playing a vital role in lowering emissions.

The Vegetarian Butcher brand was created to be as close to meat as the real thing. Jaap Korteweg was a meat lover and butcher but became disillusioned with the meat industry and has set about delivering vegetarian alternatives that focus on taste and texture to produce an innovative vegetarian meat product.

He said: “We think it is important that our products are an ode to animal meat. It is a misunderstanding that vegetarians don't like meat. If people didn't like meat that much, there would be a lot more vegetarians.

Representatives from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) were present at COP26, but the organization has said it was disappointed that animal agriculture and meat consumption wasn’t given the airtime it requires.

Nick Palmer, Head of the UK CIWF office, said: “Following pressure from us and other campaigning organizations, agriculture was given more prominence at COP26, particularly on Nature Day, but it wasn’t enough."

Diets are a key piece of the puzzle in solving the climate catastrophe but were largely ignored in COP26 discussions."

We are extremely proud of the impact we were able to have at COP26, thanks to backing from our wonderful supporters. Our stand had a constant stream of delegates visiting each day, enabling us to drive home our message which was reinforced by our powerful new report. Our press ads were positively received, and our joint statement gained media traction across Europe and beyond. Whilst global leaders have failed to emphasize the need to reduce meat consumption and the huge impact animal agriculture plays in climate change, the media certainly haven’t."

Over the coming months, we will continue our work to influence UN bodies to ensure animal agriculture is on the agenda at COP27, in Egypt, next year, and in other key UN processes such as the United Nations Environment Assembly and the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

Harco Leertouwer, Managing Director of Acre’s European business commented:

To say that I’m discouraged by the absence of animal meat consumption from the COP26 agenda would be an understatement, but that’s not to suggest that I’m not hopeful. By casting a spotlight on the vital role that sustainable food systems can play in lowering emissions, we’re also continuing to acknowledge the fact that we don’t need everyone to be perfectly sustainable."

"As someone who has spent the better part of his life consciously opting into a more sustainable diet, I know first-hand how enriching plant-based options can be. It’s a small change to the way I eat that makes an invaluable contribution to our climate – and that’s the kind of thinking plant-based campaigns promote. That’s the kind of thinking we need to capitalize on – whether it’s on the COP agenda or not.

Operating globally from our hubs in London, New York and Amsterdam, Acre is supporting the world's leading organizations, along with the most innovative start-ups, to build resilience, adapt and manage the risks involved with taking pragmatic action to tackle climate change. If COP26 has left you feeling inspired to address sustainability and climate change within your business, please contact us at to learn more about how we can support you.

Harco joined Acre in January 2020 as part of Acre’s international expansion into continental Europe. He brings in a wealth of executive search and international business growth experience, having been a Director of Michael Page in Germany and Managing Director for Badenoch & Clark Germany and the Netherlands. More recently, Harco set up his own executive search boutique, focusing on Sustainability, Renewable Energy and Clean Technology.