Politics & Law

President of WHO Calls for Shift to Plant-Based Diet to “Protect and Promote the Health of Both the People and the Planet”

In a move to integrate food systems into climate action, the president of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has called for a shift toward plant-based diets to tackle the global health and climate crises. 

In a declaration at COP 28, Adhanom said that the current food system harms people’s health by contributing to over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and global diseases, including malnutrition. 

He emphasized that delivering plant-based diets could save up to eight million lives annually and made public the organization’s commitment to supporting countries in implementing policies to improve diets and mitigate climate change.

“Together, we can protect and promote the health of both the people and the planet,” he said.

Anti-beef strategy

With this declaration, the WHO has set the stage for discussing transformative policy development for public health and environmental protection.

However, meat industry lobbyists criticized the WHO’s declaration at the event despite the growing evidence of the benefits of plant-based diets. They pushed a “pro-meat message” advocating for livestock agriculture and traditional diets, complaining that the United Nations has adopted an “anti-beef strategy.” According to the food awareness organization ProVeg International, this is a new phenomenon: climate diet denial.

But regardless of the meat lobby’s agenda, at this year’s COP summit, over 130 countries signed the Emirates Declaration on climate and health, encouraging the integration of food system transformation into climate plans. The health declaration emphasized the need to reduce meat consumption, and for the first time, the summit featured predominantly plant-based catering. 

heart shaped earth

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Health and environmental protection

In a parallel statement, the UN highlighted the interconnectedness of food systems, climate change, and human health, advocating for comprehensive solutions to food production and diet shifts to address these global challenges.

A growing body of research indicates that plant-based diets reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the risk of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy, and obesity and slow down the aging process. The scientific community also highlights that plant-based diets are crucial to mitigating the climate crisis and food insecurity. 

“There is no path to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and keeping 1.5C within reach, that does not urgently address the interactions between food systems, agriculture, and climate… Countries must put food systems and agriculture at the heart of their climate ambitions… Today’s commitment from countries around the world will help to build a global food system fit for the future,” said Mariam Bint Mohammed Almheri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment and former COP28 Food Systems Lead.

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