If the world is looking for a quick, effective way to cut carbon emissions then a meat and milk tax is the way to go. That’s the conclusion of a new study from Oxford University that highlights how keener pricing could be the best way to prevent global temperatures rising above the magic 2C threshold.
Increasing the price of animal products to reflect their true cost to the planet would discourage people from buying them so often, simultaneously reducing their negative impacts on the environment and human health, according to researchers at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food.
The researchers suggest that people should be paying 40 per cent more for beef and 20 per cent more for milk to account for the carbon cost of their production and consumption. The levy on lamb should be 15 per cent, 8.5 per cent on chicken, 7 per cent on pork and 5 per cent on eggs.
Such price rises would make shoppers think twice about adding the items to their trolleys. Purchasing patterns would change as a result, meaning fewer meat and dairy animals in the world, and the generation of less greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
“It is clear that if we don’t do something about the emissions from our food system we have no chance of limiting climate change below 2C,” said study lead Marco Springmann. “But if you’d have to pay 40% more for your steak, you might choose to have it once a week instead of twice.”
The optimal taxation plan laid out in the study found it would be possible to reduce climate emissions by 1 billion tonnes a year – equivalent to the amount produced by all the world’s planes – and to save as many as half a million lives, because people would be eating less of a food linked to a range of health issues.
Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the report – Mitigation potential and global health impacts from emissions pricing of food commodities – is the first to conduct a global analysis of climate taxes. It lays out a number of different ways they might be levied and says the potential of such schemes to mitigate climate change “could be substantial”.
Rob Bailey, research director of the Chatham House think tank, said politicians needed to step up to the plate if they wanted to encourage people to pile less meat on their. “As the new research demonstrates, in many countries there is a very strong public health and climate case for dietary change, but it isn’t happening,” he said.
“Governments are reluctant to ‘interfere’ in people’s lifestyle choices for fear of a public backlash and criticism for ‘nanny statism’, as well as the reaction from powerful interests in the food industry and agricultural lobby.”
But the choice as set out by Springmann seems simple: “Either we have climate change and more heart disease, diabetes and obesity, or we do something about the food system.”