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March 28, 2024

Editor’s note: sustainability is for life, not just for the Olympics

Alexandre Mazzia in his restaurant in Marseille (Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images)
Michelin-starred Alexandre Mazzia has been tasked along with other French chefs to solve the quandary of how to feed 15,000 athletes in a more sustainable way at this year’s Paris Olympics (Photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images)

The latest edition of our Sustainable Views newsletter

Dear reader,

I have just got back from three days in Paris, where the city is in full flow getting ready for the Olympics. The city has set itself the goal of cutting the carbon footprint of the Games in half compared with previous editions through the approach of avoid, reduce and only then, if the previous two options are not possible, offsetting emissions. 

According to the official website, previous Olympics emitted an average of 3.5mn tonnes of carbon dioxide. In its attempt to halve this figure, the city has made various pledges, including building as little new infrastructure as possible and encouraging the use of public transport. Another big area where the city has promised to be more sustainable is in terms of the catering, with water fountains favoured over plastic bottles and an emphasis on local and plant-based food. 

The final results of this ambition won’t be known until after the event, but in the food department, France has a long way to go before its farming and food consumption becomes sustainable outside the Olympic Village.  

In an article in last weekend’s Financial Times, Michelin-starred Alexandre Mazzia, brought in with other French chefs to solve the quandary of how to feed 15,000 athletes in a more sustainable way, was quoted as saying: “It’s about showing our way of consuming has changed, and French savoir faire is changing with the times. It’s a way of saying that all cuisines have evolved, and so have we.”

However, my short séjour as a vegetarian in Paris suggests little has changed in the French capital since I lived there nearly 25 years ago. Restaurants and boulangeries seemed to offer at best one vegetarian option. Meat was firmly the “normal” choice on every menu and at one restaurant we had to ask for the charcuterie to be removed from the pasta dish to find a veggie option. 

The average French person eats 84.9kg of meat a year, twice as much meat as the world average, with food overall accounting for 22 per cent of the country’s emissions. Only the Spanish and the Austrians eat more meat in Europe.

A recent report suggests France needs to halve its meat consumption by 2050 to reach its climate goals. The study, by non-profits the Climate Action Network and the Société Française de Nutrition shows 15 EU countries, including Spain, Germany and Belgium, have already integrated environmental goals into public-facing nutritional advice.

The ongoing farm protests and the close attention by the French government, and the European Commission, to demands from big cereal and meat farmers suggest now is not the time the country will decide that encouraging the consumption of less meat and more vegetables is part of its climate and sustainability strategies. The government’s decision in February to issue a decree banning the use of words like “steak” or “escalope” on vegetarian alternatives is another sign the country’s savoir faire on food, farming and emissions still has some way to go. 

France is, however, far from the only European country pushing for farmers to be allowed to carry on with business as usual. After the failure of EU member states to rubber-stamp the EU Nature Restoration Law, Austria is now reportedly lobbying for exemptions for EU farmers from the already agreed EU anti-deforestation rules. The rest of this week’s news can be found in our round-up.

Finally, Claudia reports on the difficult ongoing discussions at the UN’s International Maritime Organization on how to design a technical and economic measure to curb emissions from the shipping sector, in line with a revised greenhouse gas strategy. Tensions remain high, she reports, around how to price emissions and how any revenues raised would be distributed.

There will be no newsletter on Friday or Monday as Sustainable Views will be taking a short Easter break. 


Philippa Nuttall is the editor of Sustainable Views 

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