Suggestions from climate scientists to tax food is nothing new. Their rationale is that the agricultural industry – particularly beef and dairy – contribute so much to carbon emissions (and therefore global warming) that people’s diet habits need to change for the betterment of humanity. If people cut way back on their consumption of beef and dairy products, then there will be less demand for them, and carbon emissions will be cut, and catastrophic global warming will be averted.
So, how do you convince people to change their diet habits? Slap a hefty tax on the “problematic” items, and people won’t be able to afford it. Or so says a study that was released by a team of Oxford University scientists:
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.
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