President Trump may be agnostic (at best) about climate change but as anyone who watched BluePlanet 2 last night, something has to change our carbon economy over the next 30 years. I’m absolutely no foaming at the mouth green, but I think that massive damage is being done to our oceans with incredibly unpredictable long-term effects. If the best we can say about our climate systems is that there’s a large element of uncertainty, then we’re positively in the dark about our oceans. But what we do do to the oceans should make us deeply concerned. One small example – the massive damage being done to the Caribbean and especially the Gulf of Mexico by intensive farming in the US should give us cause for concern. Vast swathes of aquatic life in the seas around New Orleans are being scrubbed clean by fertiliser and industrial emissions from higher up the Mississippi. US agriculture, like our own, has in part been built on a protein economy focused on meat. Only last week a row erupted in New Zealand based on their local dairy industry. Even the national government has been forced to admit that the local river systems are being intensively polluted by local dairy farmers intent on using fertilisers to increase grass inputs for cows. If the river systems are a mess, I dread to think what the local bays and nearby beaches must be like!
At the moment though we’re still in piecemeal policy mode. Individual taxes and policy measures are being rushed into action to deal with specific policy problems such as carbon emissions. What’s being avoided is a holistic solution, built around joined up thinking. This lack of coordination results in short term investment opportunities – the rush into solar – but at the expense of long term sustainable business planning. In energy its now clear that the only sensible way of dealing with carbon emissions is to properly introduce a carbon tax – as suggested by Professor Dieter Helm’s latest review of the energy sector. For some unfathomable reason we keep avoiding the obvious answer, delaying the inevitable.
As I write this week in my column in the Financial Times, the ESG brigade is growing by the day – and they’ll demand a more joined up way of thinking. Slowly but surely these ESG activists will pressure corporates to plan for a carbon tax and think about reducing carbon emissions.
But I also think that their next target will be meat consumption. Food activists are, at the moment, focused on controlling sugar as a means of improving health outcomes. But arguably the planet wide threat comes from our increasing addiction to meta as a source of protein. This prompts the inevitable demand for a climate related levy on food, possibly a Carbon protein Tax? That at least is the suggestion of a new private report to investors produced by investor network FAIRR – an initiative supported by investors managing over $4 trillion of assets.
Here’s the Press release out today.
“ The policy White Paper, entitled The Livestock Levy, warns that the growing evidence of the meat industry’s harmful impacts on both human health and the environment make the imposition of a ‘behavioural (or sin) tax’ on meat products increasingly likely if countries are to fulfil their commitments to the Paris Agreement. Countries including Denmark and Sweden have already debated a meat tax.
The report examines the increasing use of ‘behavioural taxes’ by governments on products such as sugar, carbon and tobacco. It finds that meat is on the same path that led these goods to become the target of stand-alone taxes. The pathway is driven by a global consensus around meat’s negative contributions to climate change and global health epidemics such as obesity, cancer and antibiotic resistance. For example, research by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has found that the livestock industry is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked processed meats as a cause of cancer.
One of the key implications of the report is the call for companies to consider adopting an internal ‘shadow price’ of meat to account for future costs, in the same way many use internal carbon pricing. The scope of the report does not cover what the likely cost of a meat tax might be, but does point to proposals in Denmark that suggested a figure of approximately $2.7 per kilogram of meat.
Although FAIRR will not make its White Paper publicly available till next year it has released the infographic below providing a snapshot of the research that suggests meat products are following the same pathway that led tobacco, carbon and sugar to be subjected to behaviour taxes. Over 180 jurisdictions currently tax tobacco, over 60 tax carbon and at least 25 tax sugar.
The report highlights research from the University of Oxford estimating that if animal proteins were cut completely from global diets around $1.6 trillion would be saved in health and environmental costs by 2050. In particular, the research found that such a shift towards nutritionally balanced plant-based diets by 2050 would avoid $600 billion in climate damages and $1 trillion in healthcare expenses associated with treating diet-related chronic diseases.