Could meat tax beat climate change?

A major report published this week, just days before world leaders gather in Paris for the COP21 climate conference, suggests that one, as yet overlooked potential solution, is staring at us from our plates – meat. And the report proposes the radical step of a meat tax.

The report by Chatham House and Glasgow University says that meat production produces 15% of all greenhouse gases – more than all cars, trains, planes and ships combined and that the growing global appetite for meat mean consumption will rise by 75% by 2050.

The report says that reducing meat eating to healthy levels could provide one-quarter of the further emissions cuts needed to limit warming to the 2 degrees centigrade level the conference is aiming to achieve.

Education alone isn’t sufficient to change behaviour to this extent though, the report’s authors say. A tax on meat, while initially unpopular, could prove effective in reducing consumption.

Proceeds from a tax on meat could then be used to subsidise healthier alternatives that are less damaging to the environment, such as fruit, vegetables and tofu, researchers from Chatham House said.

A £1.76 per kilo tax on beef could reduce consumption by 14 per cent, a study highlighted in the report suggests.

Farmers have responded predictably to the proposal, saying that the industry had already made huge reductions.

NFU climate change adviser Ceris Jones said: “Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in the UK have decreased by around 19% since 1990 and the industry has committed to tackling its GHGs through the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.

“The NFU will be updating the ‘Dairy Roadmap’ next month to highlight some of the good environmental work dairy farmers are undertaking.”

Laura Wellesley, of Chatham House, said: “We are not in any way advocating for global vegetarianism. We can see massive changes [to emissions] from just converging around healthy levels of meat eating.”

We have long advocated eating less but better quality meat for health and animal welfare, as well as climate and environmental consideration. There is much to digest in this report about how to encourage consumers to follow this path – for environmental and health reasons.

We will, as part of a wider preview of the COP21 talks, bring you a more considered digestion of the recommendations of this report which include fascinating insight into how restaurant menu planning can play a significant part in changing behaviour.


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