Our planet, our responsibility

Activists demand climate justice

Activists demand climate justice as part of the FoE Europe organised Flood for Climate Justice

This World Vegan Day we must recognise that time is running out for the planet. And we all have a part to play in saving it.

Climate justice requires us to be honest about the role wealthy nations play in exacerbating the crisis. 

Veganism is on the rise, from a minority philosophy to a relatively mainstream movement.

The journey towards veganism is different for everyone. For some the decision is based solely on animal rights - taking a moral stance against animal abuse and exploitation.

For others, diet and lifestyle concerns factor heavily into their decision. Some go vegan after considering the environmental implications of our consumption footprint.


We need to see these environmental reasons in the context of climate justice and the responsibility that those of us in the Global North have to address the impact of our consumption.

The fight to get global emissions under control is vital if we want to keep our world temperature from rising by more than 1.5 deg C on average.

Our reckless and unsustainable burning of fossil fuels for energy is the biggest culprit in emitting the carbon dioxide (CO2) exacerbating the climate crisis.

Our transport, manufacturing, militaries and agriculture all add to the damage. Methane (CH4) is particularly significant on short timescales, relative to CO2: Over 100 years, CH4 has about 28 times the warming potential of CO2. But over 20 years, CH4 is around 84 times more potent than CO2.


Developed countries in the Global North bear the greatest responsibility for the climate crisis. In the UK, we owe our wealth to the industrial revolution, colonialism and capitalism.

During the first, we started spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and triggered the beginning of our current climate crisis.

During the second, we robbed much of the Global South of communities, people and resources. Our neocolonial activities are still leaving those countries in a perpetual state of underdevelopment and without the means to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Climate justice requires us to be honest about the role wealthy nations play in exacerbating the crisis. According to a 2020 study, “The European Union (EU-28) was responsible for 29 percent” of excess global CO2 emissions.

The Global North – including the EU, USA and G8 nations – is responsible for 92 percent of all excess CO2 emissions. Much of these excess emissions are the result of a broken food system.


It’s estimated that animal products account for 83 percent of the emissions caused by EU diets. We have to collectively and urgently make changes to our consumption.

Climate justice requires us to be honest about the role wealthy nations play in exacerbating the crisis. 

We must remember that leather and wool are important economic co-products with foods from animals, too.

So, both the residents and the Governments of countries like the UK need to act.

As a life-long resident of a wealthy, former colonial nation, I benefit from historical and ongoing injustices every day. We take many of these benefits for granted, such as the widespread availability of food.

Unless our production and consumption habits change, animal agriculture will soon be responsible for a significantly greater share of global greenhouse emissions.


We have less than 7 years left to make radical changes to avoid greater than 1.5 deg C rises. We must ‘have all cylinders firing’ if we are all to have a chance at surviving the climate crisis.

Core responsibility is with the world's greatest emitters. But we can't ignore our consumer behavior in the Global North any longer.

The broadest shoulders should carry the heaviest burdens, a principle reflected recently by the Scottish Government.

It’s our duty as residents of the Global North to take responsibility for our harmful actions, and instead act in the interest of the world. Going vegan is not a ’climate cure-all’. But it can help us address our unsustainable consumption footprint.

Moving from current meat-and-dairy-centred diets to diets without animal products globally would deliver a 28 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy, based on a 2019 study.


A major study covering 140 countries found that a shift to vegan-friendly food reduced a person's diet-related greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 70 percent.

Unsustainable and inefficient land use is another result of our demand for animal products. Switching to a vegan diet significantly reduces the land area required to produce food.

This reduces pressure on our ecosystems thereby giving us a better chance to slow and halt the decline in biodiversity. 

The UK Government needs to be more proactive to reduce the barriers that people face to going vegan.

Many people in the UK are going vegan on their own accord, largely due to ethical concerns, but more government support is needed to encourage planet-friendly consumption.


The Vegan Society has previously addressed these barriers in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, last year.

Solutions include:

(1) Guarantee at least one nutritionally balanced plant-based meal option on all public sector menus.

(2) Improve access to plant-based foods by supporting new plant-based businesses to set up, e.g. by supporting start-ups and entrepreneurs through rate-relief measures.

(3) Run awareness campaigns that communicate the impact dietary choices have on climate.

(4) Connecting climate change with public health and promoting the environmental as well as health benefits of varied plant-based diets, rich in pulses, fruit, vegetables and whole-grains. 


More support is needed. However, we can help you start now. The Vegan Society’s relaunched ‘Plate-up for the Planet’ campaign provides support and information resources that environmentally conscious people need in order to transition to veganism.

There are important moral parallels in the logic which underpins both veganism and environmentalism: humans must learn to live alongside nature, rather than bend the world to our will regardless of the consequences. 

The natural world does not exist only to meet our needs. The world can provide for us all, if we are not selfish, engaging in overexploitation and overconsumption.

We must stay within our fair limits, so that we can make repairs for historic and ongoing harms, to all the people and non-human animals with whom we share the Earth.

It’s time for the Global North to get our house in order, and hold ourselves accountable. It’s time to reflect on our individual consumption footprints. It’s time to go vegan. 

This Author

Alexander Huntley is a research assistant at The Vegan Society. He graduated from SOAS University of London with an MSc degree in the politics of conflict, rights and justice. He is a passionate human and animal rights advocate.

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