IIASA: Carbon Taxes Increase the Risk of Food Insecurity, Worse than Climate Change

An Indian farmer walks with his hungry cow through a parched paddy field in Agartala, capital city of India’s northeastern state of Tripura, March 10, 2005. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Who would have guessed that raising the cost of energy with regressive carbon taxes would harm a vital, low margin energy intensive economic activity?

Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself

  • Date:July 30, 2018
  • Source:International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
  • Summary:New research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change. Smarter, inclusive policies are necessary instead.

New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change. Smarter, inclusive policies are necessary instead.

This research, published in Nature Climate Change, is the first international study to compare across models the effects of climate change on agriculture with the costs and effects of mitigation policies, and look at subsequent effects on food security and the risk of hunger.

The researchers stress that their results should not be used to argue against greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts. Climate mitigation efforts are vital. Instead, the research shows the importance of “smart,” targeted policy design, particularly in agriculture. When designing climate mitigation policies, policymakers need to scrutinize other factors and development goals more closely, rather than focusing only on the goal of reducing emissions.

The findings are important to help realize that agriculture should receive a very specific treatment when it comes to climate change policies,” says Hasegawa. “Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations. Mitigation in agriculture should instead be integrated with development policies.”

Read more: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180730120348.htm

The abstract of the study;

Risk of increased food insecurity under stringent global climate change mitigation policy

Tomoko Hasegawa, Shinichiro Fujimori, Petr Havlík, Hugo Valin, Benjamin Leon Bodirsky, Jonathan C. Doelman, Thomas Fellmann, Page Kyle, Jason F. L. Koopman, Hermann Lotze-Campen, Daniel Mason-D’Croz, Yuki Ochi, Ignacio Pérez Domínguez, Elke Stehfest, Timothy B. Sulser, Andrzej Tabeau, Kiyoshi Takahashi, Jun’ya Takakura, Hans van Meijl, Willem-Jan van Zeist, Keith Wiebe & Peter Witzke

Food insecurity can be directly exacerbated by climate change due to crop-production-related impacts of warmer and drier conditions that are expected in important agricultural regions. However, efforts to mitigate climate change through comprehensive, economy-wide GHG emissions reductions may also negatively affect food security, due to indirect impacts on prices and supplies of key agricultural commodities. Here we conduct a multiple model assessment on the combined effects of climate change and climate mitigation efforts on agricultural commodity prices, dietary energy availability and the population at risk of hunger. A robust finding is that by 2050, stringent climate mitigation policy, if implemented evenly across all sectors and regions, would have a greater negative impact on global hunger and food consumption than the direct impacts of climate change. The negative impacts would be most prevalent in vulnerable, low-income regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where food security problems are already acute.

Read more (paywalled): https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0230-x

Sadly the full study is paywalled, but I think we get the idea.

Modern farming is energy intensive.

One easy example, production of Ammonia, a key ingredient in fertiliser, produces 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. 80% of that ammonia ends up as fertiliser.

Production of Ammonia is sensitive to energy prices. A few months ago, Ammonia production in Europe was halted when global petroleum prices rose to a level which made production unprofitable.

There have been efforts to find a clean energy route to Ammonia production. To eliminate natural gas and CO2 emissions from the ammonia production cycle, you have to start by electrolysing water for hydrogen, itself an expensive process, before applying the extreme pressures and temperatures required to crack biologically inert nitrogen molecules and force the nitrogen to combine with hydrogen to form ammonia. The product is very expensive ammonia.

Raising the price of ammonia with carbon taxes, and passing costs on to farmers would be a gruesome balancing act between food affordability, farm productivity and ammonia production costs.

Affordable Ammonia is only one of the energy intensive inputs required to keep farms producing at a level which keeps food cheap.

I suspect there are many other essential economic activities which are also severely adversely affected by carbon taxes.

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Joel Snider
July 30, 2018 3:37 pm

Yeah, then factor in the absolute donut we get in benefits for enforcing all that misery.

P Clevenger
July 30, 2018 3:53 pm

Keep in mind that food insecurity = Government Control – the desired outcome of energy taxes.

Rich Davis
Reply to  P Clevenger
July 30, 2018 4:50 pm

Yes, and “smart,” targeted policy design means that we need to carve out various exemptions so that the subsidy farmers can milk the system at the expense of the rest of us.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Rich Davis
July 31, 2018 1:12 am

Rich clearly has never been hungry. Else he would not complain about farmers.

Ernest Bush
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
July 31, 2018 8:21 am

Can we complain about the U.S. farmers who are making ethanol out of a food crop and being payed a handsome government subsidy to do this? Can we complain about being forced to pay for substandard fuel because of the addition of that ethanol in that fuel and to pay for damages to our vehicles’ engines? Can we not complain that in the U.S. there are still farmers being paid government subsides to not produce a crop?

As an aside, an investigation into who is profiting from the above would quickly turn up names of people who are currently in the U.S. Congress and in legislatures in states producing ethanol.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Ernest Bush
July 31, 2018 5:28 pm

Yes, there is sometimes an overlap between farmers and subsidy farmers. They are subsidy farmers who used to be farmers I guess.

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
July 31, 2018 9:08 am

Are you arguing that nobody can complain about farmers because everyone needs to eat?

Rich Davis
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
July 31, 2018 5:25 pm

Sorry for any confusion arising from my clumsy use of language. I was not complaining about farmers who grow food, I was referring to SUBSIDY farmers, that is, people like Elon Musk who engage in non-economic activity that gives them profits strictly because of government subsidies. For example, selling solar panels or electric cars that no rational economic actor would purchase except that the government distorts the market with subsidies.

July 30, 2018 3:54 pm

“compare across models …….due to indirect impacts on prices and supplies of key agricultural commodities.”….

They needed a model for this?

michael hart
Reply to  Latitude
July 30, 2018 5:23 pm

and 22 authors!

July 30, 2018 4:10 pm

We need more economists in the field of “climate science.” These scientists obviously don’t get it.

“Carbon taxes are good! But not on food, we need food.”

That same logic, acknowledging that taxes will disrupt otherwise functional markets? And that these disruptions will have real consequences for real people? It’s true for everything, not just food.

These economically illiterate scientists fancy themselves commissars, telling the rest of us what’s important and what isn’t. “Food should be exempt from my arbitrary decrees! Look at how benevolent I am!”

Meanwhile, standard of living and employment plummet. But you have food, so why are you complaining, comrade?

Alan Tomalty
Reply to  Keith
July 30, 2018 5:11 pm

We need more real scientists using the null hypothesis of the scientific method. What we have are 97% of the “climate scientists” thinking they don’t need to use the null hypothesis. It just slows you down in obtaining the results you WANT.

Bryan A
Reply to  Keith
July 30, 2018 7:17 pm

Even in the grocery store, food isn’t taxable unless it is considered Junk Food. Start taxing food and people will starve

Reply to  Keith
July 31, 2018 6:04 am

Well no, economists have been largely silent on the food-for-ethanol lobbyist scam for decades.

Greg in Houston
July 30, 2018 4:20 pm

“The researchers stress that their results should not be used to argue against greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts.”

Oops, the study didn’t spit out the hoped for results!

Reply to  Greg in Houston
July 31, 2018 6:06 am

But it was enough to get their ticket punched to get published.

Reply to  Greg in Houston
July 31, 2018 6:21 am

Greg in Houston ( without THE HOUSTON problem I hope ! )
” Climate mitigation efforts are vital. Instead, the research shows
the importance of “smart,” targeted policy design, particularly in agriculture.”
“policymakers need to scrutinize other factors and development goals
more closely, rather than focusing only on the goal of reducing emissions.”
WHICH MEANS : What about ME ! It isn’t fair !( That miserable SONG LYRIC ! )
“What About me, it isn’t fair
I’ve had enough now I want my share
Can’t you see? I want to live!
But you just take more than you give…”

CD in Wisconsin
July 30, 2018 4:28 pm

The study in this post demonstrates yet again how unthinking activists and politicians trying to address one issue just end up replacing it with another one (and maybe more). And who is to say that the new problem or issue won’t be worse than the original one?

This isn’t done with just carbon taxes, but also with solar panels and wind turbines. The latter two leave behind toxic waste which is already building up as old solar panels are retired. Same with wind turbines. In fact, solar leaves toxic waste behind during the raw material mining and manufacturing phases as well. Can’t find the article that talks about it right now. And don’t get me started on the low energy density of wind and solar which is why they need a lot more land area than traditional power plants.

Poorly or badly thought out “solutions” to a perceived problem are not solutions when they do this. The idea is for humanity to progress, not for it to regress or remain stagnant.

CD in Wisconsin
Reply to  CD in Wisconsin
July 30, 2018 4:38 pm
July 30, 2018 4:45 pm

Hmmm, sounds to me what they are saying is a carbon tax on food production IS okay anywhere EXCEPT … for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations. Same old, same old – taxing the so called rich and that has NOTHING to do with mitigating snail farts.

July 30, 2018 5:04 pm

Have a look at the Hazer process for producing hydrogen and graphite from Methane?

Reply to  michael
July 30, 2018 6:18 pm

That is a nit with this article. The hydrogen for ammonia production does not come from water electrolysis (at least with the industrial level processes that I know of). Most of them first create syngas, remove the CO from that, and then use the hydrogen to feed the Haber-Bosch process. A majority of the energy to drive the H-B stage comes from combusting the CO. (Water does come into the process in production of the syngas and CO removal – but it is not split.)

The Hazer process creates hydrogen and graphite directly, without the byproduct of CO2 – but that requires energy input to split the methane – and then more energy to drive the H-B stage, which is now a separate energy user, not benefiting from the hydrogen production stage.

Just about the same amount of energy required overall, although with more complexity. But, of course, the energy for the Haser-Haber-Bosch cycle will come from “renewables” – good luck with that. They should talk to some of the industries in South Australia that are constantly shutting down operations without a reliable source of energy.

Reply to  Writing Observer
July 31, 2018 6:25 am

Writing Observer !
Sorry to RAIN on your technological parade……I do agree with you though….but
sometime SIMPLE is easier !

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Urine is a liquid by-product of metabolism in humans and in many animals. Urine flows from the kidneys through the ureters to the urinary bladder. Urination results in urine being excreted from the body through the urethra.
The cellular metabolism generates many by-products which are rich in nitrogen and must be cleared from the bloodstream, such as urea, uric acid, and creatinine. These by-products are expelled from the body during urination, which is the primary method for excreting water-soluble chemicals from the body. A urinalysis can detect nitrogenous wastes of the mammalian body.Urine has a role in the earth’s nitrogen cycle.

In balanced ecosystems urine fertilizes the soil and thus helps plants to grow.
Therefore, urine can be used as a fertilizer. !!!!!!!!!!!
“WE”………………… or should that be ‘wee’……..

July 30, 2018 5:05 pm

have a look at the aussie technology HAZER process.

July 30, 2018 5:13 pm

Not even mentioned is the increase in vegetation growth due to additional CO2. Everything is settled though.

Thomas Black
July 30, 2018 5:18 pm

How you know carbon tax’s are a scam.
Ontario a province in Canada is opting out of carbon tax’s.
The biggest problem is a loss of 9.8 billion dollars in revenue.
The loss of REVENUE, not climate change, is the worry.
It’s the money folks.

Reply to  Thomas Black
July 31, 2018 6:10 am

I guess we’ll have to move on to another lab rat experiment in another province.

Alan Tomalty
July 30, 2018 5:19 pm

Hasv anyone done a study on the long term inflation effects of taxing carbon dioxide and other GHG’s?

John Minich
Reply to  Alan Tomalty
July 30, 2018 6:21 pm

As I remember, water vapor can also be considered a green house gas, so that has to be taxed. Since solid and liquid water can become a green house gas, does that mean that those states should be taxed as well? Who will pay the tax for water vapor from the oceans? I suppose I’m getting too absurd even for an idiot.

Reply to  John Minich
July 31, 2018 1:19 am

John Minich

Water isn’t “considered” a green house gas, it is the principle greenhouse gas. It forms over 90% of all greenhouse gases with CO2 being around 3%.

“He [John Tyndall] was the first to correctly measure the relative infrared absorptive powers of the gases nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, etc. (year 1859). He concluded that water vapour is the strongest absorber of radiant heat in the atmosphere and is the principal gas controlling air temperature. Absorption by the other gases is not negligible but relatively small.” (My emphasis). This is from a Wikipedia article on Tyndall, linked to from the page on Tyndall on the Royal Institutes site. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Tyndall

Reply to  Alan Tomalty
July 31, 2018 9:10 am

There are none, since you can’t get inflation from just increasing the price of one product.

Johann Wundersamer
July 30, 2018 5:58 pm


AGARTALA/GUWAHATI: After his observations that internet existed during Mahabharata, followed by his controversial remarks on former Miss World Diana Hayden and his career guidance to civil engineers, Biplab Deb has now some life advice to offer to unemployed youths of the state.

The solution to unemployment, the first BJP chief minister of Tripura suggests, is to stop chasing government jobs and, instead, rear cows or set up paan shops. “Every household should have a cow. Milk is being sold at Rs 50 per litre in Tripura. If a graduate, who keeps job hunting for 10 years, rears a cow, he would earn Rs10 lakh,” Deb said at a seminar by the Tripura Veterinary Council on Saturday.

Indian people on par with study’s authors:

Food insecurity can be directly exacerbated by climate change due to crop-production-related impacts of warmer and drier conditions that are expected in important agricultural regions. However, efforts to mitigate climate change through comprehensive, economy-wide GHG emissions reductions may also negatively affect food security, due to indirect impacts on prices and supplies of key agricultural commodities.

Tom Abbott
July 30, 2018 7:51 pm

Carbon Taxes, like most taxes, hurt the poor the most.

I don’t see Carbon Taxes being a viable option in most of the United States. People don’t like having their taxes raised, directly or indirectly.

July 30, 2018 8:08 pm

Leftists need to read Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy, because they are absolutely clueless of how economies actually work and why they fail as evidenced by this stupid carbon tax fiasco:


When feckless Leftist government hacks impose insane and unnecessary: taxes, regulations, mandates, rules, price controls, subsidies, protective tariffs, etc., on an economy, these excessive compliance costs cause the misallocation of finite land, labor and capital from being efficiently utilized, which would have bee effectively used for: hiring new staff, increase savings, R&D spending, developing new technologies, increasing capital expenditures, building new factories, offering salary increases, developing cures for cancer, launching new products, expanding to new markets, etc…

Moreover, these losses are compounded over time and over all industrial sectors as the misallocation of resources and arbitrary increases of economic inputs and outputs cause: price increases, higher unemployment, higher welfare expenditures, falling wages, decreased bank reserves, higher interest rates, falling standards of living, more money printing to finance ballooning welfare expenditures, monetary inflation, weakened currencies, etc… and eventually you become Venezuela x infinity…

If lunatic Leftists were actually concerned about CO2 emissions, (which they are not: it’s all about stealing more taxes, and usurping more power and control from individuals) they’d spend money on developing Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (like China is doing), which generates 2,000,000 times more energy/kg of fuel than hydro-carbons, and there are 100’s of thousands of years worth of Thorium available everywhere around the globe…

Socialism v. Free-market capitalism is like a race between an old nag pulling a 2 ton sled and a thoroughbred horse like Justify; I’m betting on Justify…

BTW, if people really wish to know how economies work, they should read Ludwig von Mises “Human Action” (a 900-page slog of a read but fascinating–he should have won the Nobel Prize in Economics for this book, but alas…):


July 30, 2018 9:57 pm

Maybe they’re serious about the old adage: The more you tax something, the less you get of it. Too bad practically all living things on earth are hooked into the carbon cycle.

Joel O’Bryan
July 30, 2018 11:19 pm

Carbon taxes are the global socialist’s plan to shackle the lower class to state hand-outs while simultaneously reducing the middle class to the lower class. Sheep and the owner.

A two class feudal society of elites and their peasants. The peasants are granted whatever “grace” the elites feel generous to deliver.

Don’t be a sheep.

July 30, 2018 11:52 pm

It’s still all done by modelling…

Ed Zuiderwijk
July 31, 2018 1:10 am

The cynic in me just deduces that carbon taxes are a thinly disguised mechanism to impose population control on the third world, and on the under-developed world, and even, perhaps, the developed world.

July 31, 2018 2:54 am

Oh, he irony. Farmers are having to pay more to help reduce a gas that helps their crops grow….

July 31, 2018 6:02 am

Green cars are carbon intensive to make from the plastics to the aluminum and battery fabrication and component supply chain. They are also wasteful if anyone would look at the scrappage rate and repair cost stemming from the tendency to declare them an insurance total loss from a minor fender bender. Hint: ultra-thin aluminum body panels are not easy to replace in the typical repair market but you only find that out after the accident.

July 31, 2018 6:12 am

Next up we’ll have higher income taxes on the rich in order to pay for the carbon taxes on the poor, with an admin fee of course.

Reasonable Skeptic
July 31, 2018 9:49 am

I think what really needs to happen is to find and eliminate those industries that use a lot of energy but do not produce useful products.

Joel Snider
Reply to  Reasonable Skeptic
July 31, 2018 12:10 pm

A useful product is one that the public wants. Certainly not for progressive control freaks to decide.

July 31, 2018 10:13 am

In other words, carbon taxes are highly regressive from those who preach progressive taxation all the time.

July 31, 2018 2:04 pm

Q: How can carbon taxes make anything cheaper?
A: They can’t. Adding extra cost into any supply chain simply increases cost without benefit.

July 31, 2018 2:42 pm

‘Food insecurity’ is a made up term with no meaning. But you should be skeert!

August 7, 2018 10:13 am

If carbon taxes increase the risk of food insecurity AT ALL, it will be worse than climate change increases the risk of food insecurity. Because climate change does NOT increase the risk of food insecurity. In fact, climate change DECREASES the risk of food insecurity.

Crops need three things from the environment to flourish: heat, moisture, and carbon dioxide. All three of them increase under global warming. Of course, theoretically, the heat factor has some point of diminishing (even negative) returns, but we are not likely to reach that point even after burning every bit of fossil fuels available to us. And even if we did reach that point, we could easily compensate by planting and harvesting crops earlier. Moisture has a point of diminishing returns too; i.e., flooding. But that’s just a marginally increased risk; the increase in moisture, on average, will be beneficial to crops. Alarmists, for some reason, seem to think that climate change will REDISTRIBUTE the moisture globally, so areas where rainfall was once plentiful will become arid, and vice versa. I have never seen any evidence that such a thing will happen, but even if it does, so what? We’ll still be getting more rainfall, globally, and production can move to those areas where rainfall is now abundant. There is no point of diminishing returns for carbon dioxide, either real or hypothetical. I’ve seen a couple of studies claiming that certain nutrients in certain crops will decrease if temperatures continue to increase, but the nutrient decrease is small, and far outweighed by the increase in production, which I talk about in the next paragraph.

So now that I’ve debunked the major “global warming is bad for food supplies” arguments, let’s talk about all the ways global warming is GOOD for crops. Again, all three of the things that crops need from the environment will increase if global warming continues. This means yields will increase. But it also means ACRES will increase. Vast areas of Canada and Russia (the two biggest, by area, nations in the world) that are too cold for crops will become warm enough. But perhaps the biggest advantage global warming will provide for crops is the increase in GROWING SEASON LENGTH. Corn planting, for example, typically begins in mid-April in the US and continues through the end of May. But imagine if we could plant it in February. With all the additional heat units (degree days) we could get throughout the season, farmers could potentially harvest corn in July, maybe even late June. This would give farmers enough time to plant and harvest ANOTHER CROP before temperatures got too cold to grow corn. That would, for practical purposes, DOUBLE corn yield in those areas where it could be done. Between that, the normal increase in yield, and the increased growing area, I believe potential food supplies would at least triple if global warming continues. (I say “potential” because I don’t actually think farmers will take advantage of the increased growing area and increased growing season length. If they do so, production will increase so much that the bottom will fall out of crop prices. But the point is, IF WE NEED IT, the production potential is there, so food security is increased.

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