Combined sugar and carbon tax could reduce UK emissions by 19 million tonnes

By combining a sugar tax on soft drinks with a food-based carbon tax, the UK could raise £3.6bn in revenue; reduce carbon emissions by 19 million tonnes annually and increase life expectancy, researchers from Oxford University have claimed.

As well as the resulting dietary shift, the four models also revealed a decrease or delayed death ratio from heart disease and cancer

As well as the resulting dietary shift, the four models also revealed a decrease or delayed death ratio from heart disease and cancer

The researchers at Oxford – in partnership with the University of Reading – modelled the effects that four different tax scenarios would have on environmental, health and economic trends in the UK. The research was published in the open-access journal BMC Public Health.

The models included various combinations of a £2.86-per tonne carbon tax, a 20% tax on sugary drinks and subsidised purchasing of low emitting foods.

All scenarios predicted a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 16.5 and 18.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The two scenarios that did not include subsidies for low emission food generated revenues o£3bn and £3.4bn, the higher figure being due to the additional sugary drink tax.

All tax scenarios also predicted a decrease in the purchase of beef, lamb and other meats except pork and poultry, with a corresponding drop in deaths from heart disease and cancer.

Lead researcher Adam Briggs from the University of Oxford, said: "Our study demonstrates that a food carbon tax could have meaningful effects on greenhouse gas emissions without harming health. Small tweaks to the design of the tax, such as a tax on soft drinks, can result in significant improvements to population health without dramatically reducing the effect on emission reductions.

“A well designed carbon tax could be an important addition to policies aimed at reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions."

Briggs continued: "Agriculture is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and those arising from food production have negative effects that aren't borne by the individual buying the food, but by society as a whole.

“Examples include the health effects of global warming from extreme weather, changing global disease patterns, and airborne pollution, as well as changes to food production patterns and overall availability of energy resources.

"Some studies have found that diets low in greenhouse gases are also better for health, mainly arising from people eating less meat and more plants. However, some foods buck this trend, for example sugar is low in greenhouse gas emissions yet bad for health. To counter this problem, we modelled the effects of a food carbon-tax alongside a 20% tax on sugary soft drinks. We estimated the effect on food purchases"

Climate cuisine

Social network Climates, claims that switching to its tailor made ‘Climatarian’ diet – which still involves the consumption of meat – could lead to a tonne of CO2 per year being saved for each person that adopts the diet.

The ‘Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption’ report from independent policy institute Chatham House highlights that the livestock sector is currently accountable for around 15% of the global carbon emissions –equivalent to worldwide tailpipe emissions from cars.

The report argues that a switch in dietary behaviour – revolving around the consumption of less meat - could create yearly emissions savings of six gigatonnes of CO2e.

Green & Lean meals, developed jointly by WWF experts and Sodexo chefs, are an example of a product designed to be nutritious and low-carbon with responsibly sourced ingredients.

Matt Mace


food | Tax Incentives | low carbon


Energy efficiency & low-carbon | Climate change
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