Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A group of researchers in Oxford University, England have suggested that imposing a massive tax on carbon intensive foods – specifically protein rich foods like meat and dairy – could help combat climate change.
Pricing food according to its climate impacts could save half a million lives and one billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions
Taxing greenhouse gas emissions from food production could save more emissions than are currently generated by global aviation, and lead to half a million fewer deaths from chronic diseases, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change.
The study, conducted by a team of researchers from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at the University of Oxford and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington DC, is the first global analysis to estimate the impacts that levying emissions prices on food could have on greenhouse gas emissions and human health.
The findings show that about one billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided in the year 2020 if emissions pricing of foods were to be implemented, more than the total current emissions from global aviation. However, the authors stress that due consideration would need to be given to ensuring such policies did not impact negatively on low income populations.
“Emissions pricing of foods would generate a much needed contribution of the food system to reducing the impacts of global climate change,” said Dr Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, who led the study. “We hope that’s something policymakers gathering this week at the Marrakech climate conference will take note of.”
Much of the emissions reduction would stem from higher prices and lower consumption of animal products, as their emissions are particularly high. The researchers found that beef would have to be 40% more expensive globally to pay for the climate damage caused by its production. The price of milk and other meats would need to increase by up to 20%, and the price of vegetable oils would also increase significantly. The researchers estimate that such price increases would result in around 10% lower consumption of food items that are high in emissions. “If you’d have to pay 40% more for your steak, you might choose to have it once a week instead of twice,” said Dr Springmann.
The results indicate that the emissions pricing of foods could, if appropriately designed, be a health-promoting climate-change mitigation policy in high-income, middle-income, and most low-income countries. Special policy attention would be needed in those low-income countries where a high fraction of the population is underweight, and possibly for low-income segments within countries.
The abstract of the study;
Mitigation potential and global health impacts from emissions pricing of food commodities
Marco Springmann, Daniel Mason-D’Croz, Sherman Robinson, Keith Wiebe, H. Charles J. Godfray, Mike Rayner & Peter Scarborough
The projected rise in food-related greenhouse gas emissions could seriously impede efforts to limit global warming to acceptable levels. Despite that, food production and consumption have long been excluded from climate policies, in part due to concerns about the potential impact on food security. Using a coupled agriculture and health modelling framework, we show that the global climate change mitigation potential of emissions pricing of food commodities could be substantial, and that levying greenhouse gas taxes on food commodities could, if appropriately designed, be a health-promoting climate policy in high-income countries, as well as in most low- and middle-income countries. Sparing food groups known to be beneficial for health from taxation, selectively compensating for income losses associated with tax-related price increases, and using a portion of tax revenues for health promotion are potential policy options that could help avert most of the negative health impacts experienced by vulnerable groups, whilst still promoting changes towards diets which are more environmentally sustainable.
This proposal, from a group of people who have probably never missed a meal in their lives, is totally obscene. High income countries often have a lot of poor people who would be hard hit by increases in the price of food.
Needlessly exacerbating the risk poor people don’t get enough to eat, especially children and pregnant mothers, who are especially vulnerable to adverse health impacts from lack of protein in their diet – if this ghastly proposal is ever implemented, future generations will look upon it as a crime against humanity.