Meat tax ‘increasingly probable’ to help combat climate change

Investors have claimed that the implementation of the Paris Agreement will lead to some governments introducing a "livestock levy" that cuts meat consumption from diets, in a move than could avoid up to $600bn in climate damages by 2050.

The Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) network is backed by members including Robeco, Aviva and the Triodos Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) funds and collectively manages more than $4trn in assets. The network has today (12 December) released a new report examining how “behavioural taxes” on meat consumption could improve public health and reduce climate risks.

The Livestock Levy white paper notes that the recent sugar tax – and similar taxes on carbon and tobacco – could be utilised on meat production as countries explore new ways to deliver on commitments to the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 2C.

FAIRR’s founder Jeremy Coller said: “Behavioural taxes are increasingly common. That’s why we’ve seen 16 countries adopt a sugar tax in recent years. The damage the meat industry causes to our health and environment make it very exposed to similar levies, and it is increasingly probable we’ll see meat taxes become a reality. The continued subsidisation of meat is the antithesis of what’s needed as policymakers and countries gear up to deliver on Paris. Far-sighted investors should plan ahead for this day.”

“If policymakers are to cover the true cost of livestock epidemics like avian flu and human epidemics like obesity, diabetes and cancer, while also tackling the twin challenges of climate change and antibiotic resistance, then a shift from subsidisation to taxation of the meat industry looks inevitable.”

The FAIRR white paper highlights research from the University of Oxford, which found that eliminating meat completely from global diets would save around $1.6trn in health and environmental costs by 2050, with a rapid switch towards nutritionally-balanced plant-based diets avoiding $600bn in climate damages alone.

More than 180 jurisdictions have implemented a tobacco tax, while more than 60 carbon and 25 sugar taxes have also been introduced. Although the white paper doesn’t cover what the meat tax would cost, it does suggest that companies implement an internal “shadow price” – similar to an internal price on carbon – to account for future costs. FAIRR will officially launch the report to the public in 2018.

Meat defeat

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that the livestock industry is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and forecasts suggest that global meat consumption will rise by 76% by 2050.

Countries such as Sweden and Denmark have already explored the concept of a meat tax; Denmark has discussed implemented a $2.7 per kilogram tax. Research from Chalmers University of Technology and Sweden’s Technical Research Institute found that European farmers could reduce emissions by moving away from livestock practices and incorporating new farming technologies. The combined approach could cut emissions by nearly 50%.

A Chatham House report estimates that a switch in dietary behaviour could create yearly emissions savings of six gigatonnes of CO2e, while research from Oxford University found that surcharges of 40% on beef and 20% on milk would account for the damage their production causes people via climate change.

Reports suggest that the trajectory of meat and dairy consumption will lead to the agricultural sector supplying 20 of the 23 gigatonne (Gt) annual limit for emissions in 2050 – as established by the Paris Agreement – leaving just 3 GtCO2e for the rest of the global economy.

During the COP23 climate negotiations in Bonn, representatives from FAIRR called on delegates to put ‘cows alongside cars’ by prioritising reduction actions in the livestock sector.

Matt Mace

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