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‘Two steaks a week’: 14 cities pledge to cut out meat to save the planet

“Our focus at this conference has been on some of the other ambitious declarations,” said Melbourne city councillor Nick Reece, chairman of the planning portfolio and representing the council. “We weren’t ready to sign that declaration today.”

But he added, “This is an important conversation for Australia to have … one that Australia has to have.”

The summit, which brought together more than 50 mayors from the world’s biggest and wealthiest cities, was addressed by climate activist and former US vice-president Al Gore, who said, “Because of what’s happened to our national governments, mayors are on the [climate change] front line now.

“A lot of this is up to you; we need you, we need your help, the world needs your help, the next generation needs your help and the young people are saying in ever louder, more passionate terms that they depend on us to do the right thing.”

Reece agreed it was “very true” in Australia that the national government was failing to do its part to help hold global warming to below 1.5 degrees, a limit intended to avoid the worse effects of climate change.

“But at a city level in Australia, you are seeing some really good things happening,” he said, pointing to Sydney and Melbourne’s policies to reach net zero carbon emissions, and Melbourne’s new waste management strategy that commits the city to a target of 90 per cent of waste diverted from landfill by 2030 and a 20 per cent reduction in household waste produced.

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He said cities were able to work on a “precinct level”, to pick a particular area such as Barangaroo or Fishermans Bend and impose higher environmental standards on developers in exchange for planning concessions such as looser height restrictions.

Reece said Australian cities had “so many great things to learn” from Copenhagen, where just 3 per cent of waste now ends up in landfill, compared with 75 per cent in a big Australian city.

But Reece said vehicle congestion charges and low emission zones – which have proved hugely successful in cutting emissions in cities around the world – were still politically unachievable in Australia.

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“I personally support congestion charging; in fact I think it’s inevitable,” he said. “But there is this visceral reaction to it among political leaders in Australia.”

The Good Food declaration said eating a sustainable diet and avoiding food waste could cut related greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60 per cent.

Research released in January by the EAT-Lancet Commission found that, if adopted universally, the Planetary Health Diet would save 11 million lives each year as well as dramatically reduce emissions.

The diet sets a limit of about 300 grams of meat per adult a week, and about 250 grams of dairy a day. “[It] should consist of approximately half a plate of vegetables and fruits; the other half should consist of primarily whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils, and (optionally) modest amounts of animal sources of protein,” the declaration said.

Cities would also “ideally” source their food from organic agriculture.

The 14 signatory cities have 64 million citizens and serve 500 million meals a year in schools, hospitals and other public buildings.

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and C40 chairwoman, said cities were “central in shaping a virtuous circle from the farm to the table, from the seed to the plate. As we are facing a climate crisis, I am convinced rethinking our approach on food is crucial for a long-term and perennial ecological transition.”

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