Swedish researchers propose climate tax on meat and milk; food production contributes 25 percent of global greenhouse gases
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — With methane and nitrogen oxides from food production accounting for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, there’s room to make some significant reductions. One way to influence the consumption of products that generate the highest amount of those gases could be to impose a climate tax on meat and milk, according to researchers at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.
In a paper published in the journal CO2 equivalent on meat and milk could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 7 percent. If the land were to be used for bioenergy production instead of dairy and meat, emissions could be cut sixfold, they said., Kristina Mohlin, Stefan Wirsenius and Fredrik Hedenus concluded that a €60 tax per ton of
“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. This means that we do not pay for the climate costs of our food,” said Hedenus.
In the article, the researchers show that reduced meat, milk and egg consumption has two effects: A direct impact, which means significantly lower emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, and an indirect one, through land being made available for bioenergy cultivation.
Emissions from food are difficult to tax as the principal sources are methane from the stomachs of cows and nitrous oxide from land to which fertilizer has been applied — both these emission sources are technically complicated and very costly to measure. There is also a lack of effective technical solutions to reduce these emissions.
On the other hand, changed food habits can have a great impact. If beef is replaced by chicken, emissions decrease by 90 percent, and if beef is replaced by beans the reduction is 99 percent.
“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,” Wirsenius said.
Beef, which is responsible for the highest emissions per pound of meat, would be taxed higher under the proposal, while chicken and pork would be taxed lower as their emissions are lower.
A climate tax on meat and milk would probably also mean that land becomes available for the growing of bioenergy crops.
A tax equivalent to €60 per ton of CO2 (far less than half the current petrol taxes in many European countries) would, according to the calculations, reduce beef consumption by about 15 per cent.
“This tax is not at all a matter of forcing people to become vegetarians but merely moving towards a slightly more climate-smart diet,” says Wirsenius.
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