Climate tax on meat could significantly reduce Europe's greenhouse gas emissions

A field of cowsA climate tax on meat, milk and eggs could help reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions by seven per cent, according to suggestions made in a new study from Sweden.

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers Institute of Technology have found that cutting down on consumption of meat, milk and eggs would lower the amount of harmful methane and nitrous oxide produced by farm animals, and at the same time increase the land available for bioenergy production.

The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be six times greater if farmland were given over to technologies to produce green energy, says the report, published in the scientific journal Climatic Change.

“Today we have taxes on petrol and a trading scheme for industrial plants and power generation, but no policy instruments at all for food-related greenhouse gas emissions,” said Fredrick Hedenus of the department of energy and environment at Chalmers. “This means that we do not pay for the climate costs of our food.”

Where food production is concerned, it is difficult to tax emissions at source (i.e. from the animals in the field), which is where taxing the food produced comes in, hopefully resulting in a change of eating habits.

The report recommends a climate tax of €60 per ton of CO2 equivalent be levied on meat, dairy and eggs. Beef, which is the most harmful meat to produce in terms of its environmental impact, would be taxed at a higher rate, but the report’s authors calculate that consumption would drop 15 per cent even at the base rate of €60 per ton.

If beef were replaced by chicken, for examples, emissions would decrease by 90 per cent – and by 99 per cent if replaced with beans, which require 20 times less land to grow an equivalent amount.

“A tax on the emissions from food production would normally be preferable. But as this is virtually impossible in practice, and the effects of switching away from meat and milk are so great, we show that it can be far more effective to apply the tax directly to the meat and milk consumption,” says Stefan Wirsenius of Chalmers.

“This tax is not at all a matter of forcing people to become vegetarians but merely moving towards a slightly more climate-smart diet.”

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