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The Friday Digest: squeeze on orange supplies leaves bitter taste

The ten-day Bonn Climate Change Conference (June 3rd to 13th) started this week. It’s a halfway house to the COP29 shindig in November. Climate finance, as ever, will be high on the agenda (and rightly so). There will also be discussions relating to national plans and a just transition away from fossil fuels. “These talks will centre on developing a draft negotiating text for COP29, outlining a timeline and annual goal for meaningful climate mitigation finance for developing countries, starting from a floor of $100bn,” explained Katharina Richter, a specialist in decolonial environmental politics from the University of Bristol.

That’s no small feat. So negotiators, activists and experts will need to be adequately fuelled. “We were pleasantly surprised to see a range of tasty, nutritious plant-based food options served up at Bonn on the first day of the conference,” said Lana Weidgenant at ProVeg. “[…] the message is really getting across that plant-based diets are the most sustainable diets and that catering at climate conferences need to reflect this.” Weidgenant reckons around half the food on offer is vegan and vegetarian.

Back here in the UK, the latest polling from Hubbub shows 61% of Brits agree that a meal without meat and dairy can still be tasty (up from 53% in 2023). One in two people say they’re willing to eat less meat, with a similar number (47%) in agreement that eating less meat and dairy is a decent way to reduce their impact on the environment. Health is the top motivator for consuming fewer livestock products (45%), followed by animal welfare (43%) and environmental impact (38%). The main barrier to eating fewer meat and dairy products is taste: 47% simply enjoy chicken and cheese (and willingness to eat less dairy is lower than for meat).

On that front, it’s worth a nod towards Ferrero, which is soon to launch a vegan Nutella in Europe. This is big news. But it was a post from Sonalie Figueiras, who has been scrutinising Ferrero’s announcement, which caught our attention. Green Queen’s editor found a lack of carbon assessments on dairy-free ingredients (like non-dairy milk powder) and poor transparency around emissions from Ferrero itself. “[…] it would be so powerful to show the impact in terms of emissions right off the bat,” she wrote. That would reflect poorly on the standard Nutella, mind.

Less meat and dairy also means more plants. Like beans. And lentils. And also fruit. Oranges have been in the news this week – specifically an orange juice “crisis”, according to Kees Cools, president of the International Fruit and Vegetable Juice Association. Three consecutive years of dwindling supplies have depleted stockpiles, reported the Financial Times, with Florida output down to 17 million boxes of orange juice a year; two decades ago the state squeezed out 240 million boxes. Citrus greening – an incurable disease that makes the fruit bitter and kills the trees – and climate change are among the main culprits.

Mandarins, which are a little more resilient to climate change, could be a short-term fix. Longer term, the solution might rest on “different species of fruit”, said Cools. Such ‘climate engineering’ is set to become more commonplace. “It feels like ‘what’ products get used and ‘where’ they are sourced from, will change more in the next decade than the past five (at least),” said David Read, chairman at Prestige Purchasing.

Those reliant on a few commodities that are already being battered by climate change have been warned. Some suggested headlines like this show the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and other reporting-centric exercises haven’t really worked in embedding sustainability considerations into decision-making. “Otherwise the orange juice companies would have been ahead of this entirely predictable situation,” wrote David Willans, sustainability director at communications agency Bladonmore. 

That is “not a criticism of these initiatives, because they have massively increased awareness, understanding etc, but when the required output is ‘produce a report’, that’s what everyone focuses on. Hopefully CSOs [chief sustainability officers] in other commodity-reliant companies are using this article to kick off real scenario and contingency planning,” he added. 

And there is no time like the present. The 2023/24 El Niño event which helped fuel a spike in global temperatures and extreme weather around the world is now showing signs of ending, said the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). There is likely to be a swing back to La Niña but that doesn’t mean a pause in long-term climate change, said WMO deputy secretary-general Ko Barrett. ‘[…] our planet will continue to warm due to heat-trapping greenhouse gases,” and “[o]ur weather will continue to be more extreme because of the extra heat and moisture in our atmosphere”.

Our other stories this week involve a new Scottish salmon inquiry launched by MSPs, the commercial kitchens phasing out gas, and a comment arguing that human connection is vital for the businesses tackling climate change.

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