Scientists at Oxford University have calculated that imposing specific taxes on food production could slash carbon emissions by 1 billion tons a year — equivalent to the emissions from the entire global aviation industry. Marco Springmann, from the Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food, led the study. He say, “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 2º Celsius.” Food production is responsible for a quarter of all the greenhouse gas emissions.
The study found that the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions are meat and dairy production. In order to reduce the impact of those two activities would require a 40% surcharge on beef and a 20% surcharge on dairy products. Beef has a particularly large role to play in global warming due to methane emissions from cattle and the amount of deforestation that takes place every year to support the beef industry. Leonardo DiCaprio makes this point in his latest movie, Before The Flood.
The proposed taxes would encourage people to consume less beef and dairy. That would have a dual benefit. It would cut emissions and lead to healthier eating. The research has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The research examined different tax regimes and found the optimum arrangement in terms of both emissions and health was to combine the taxes with subsidies for healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables. The revenue raised could also go to compensate people for price increases. That would insure poorer people did not end up with worse diets as the result of the taxation.
Changes to how food is produced and consumed have largely been ignored in the battle against carbon emissions and climate change. “If people see any food price rise, they get angry, so you have to explain why you are doing it,” said Springmann. He added that a successful food tax policy could spend all the money it raised on ensuring people could afford healthier diets.
If people ate less beef and dairy the incidence of heart disease, strokes, and cancers would be reduced. In the US, for example, people eat three times the recommended level of meat. The researchers found climate taxes would save more than half a million early deaths every year, largely in Europe, the US, Australia and China.
Calls to eat less meat by the UN and climate change experts have controversial so far. Rob Bailey, research director at UK think tank Chatham House says, “The challenge is political. 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. 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.”
Springmann said it is critical to find a way to cut the environmental impact of food production: “Either we have climate change and more heart disease, diabetes and obesity, or we do something about the food system.”
Source: The Guardian