COP26: Diet changes could help towards Net Zero targets

11 October 2021

Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 – later this month, Senior Research Fellow Professor Susan Jebb OBE is advocating for changes to our diet as one approach to meet Net Zero emission targets in the future.  

Susan, who is Professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford and Chair of the Food Standards Agency, has recorded a new film  – How can we eat without cooking the planet? – as part of a ten-video series featuring Oxford academics who outline the key issues that will be debated at the conference, and how their research feeds into global policymaking.

It is part of the University’s wider climate change programme True Planet, which brings together Oxford researchers from a range of disciplines to address our most pressing environmental challenges, in partnership with governments, industries, charities, educational institutions and the broader United Nations.



The COP26 summit, which takes place in Glasgow from 31st October – 12th November, aims to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Alok Sharma, COP President – Designate, says “There is no viable pathway to net zero emissions that does not involve protecting and restoring nature on an unprecedented scale. If we are serious about holding temperature rises to 1.5 degrees and adapting to the impacts of climate change, we must change the way we look after our land and seas and how we grow our food.

He adds, “This is also important if we want to protect and restore the world’s biodiversity, upon which all life depends. At COP26, we will work with partners to take forward action on protecting and restoring forests and critical ecosystems, and we will champion the transition towards sustainable, resilient and nature positive agriculture.”

Susan maintains that ‘we cannot meet Net Zero targets without changing our diet.’ Agriculture accounts for more CO2 emissions than transportation and, she says, ‘it is the single biggest cause of harm to nature.’

She explains that while we need governments to make some structural changes in the food system, we can all make a start by doing three things:

  • Reduce consumption of meat and dairy.
  • Avoid eating too much.
  • Cut down on food waste.

Some people, she says, have given up meat altogether but ‘although animals produce emissions, they are an important part of our agriculture eco-systems and provide important nutrients. We need to reduce the global demand for meat, so countries that currently eat a lot of meat need to cut down. That would be good for health and the environment. Eating less meat will be a win for people and the planet’.

Watch the previous videos in the series here.

Read more about Susan’s research here.