Taxing meat would be less unpopular than many governments believe if the reasons of tackling climate change and health concerns were properly explained, research says.
Even unpopular interventions to make meat more expensive through a carbon tax would face less resistance from the public as they come to understand the arguments behind such a move, the report from international affairs think tank Chatham House says.
The study says a worldwide shift to healthier diets could help close the gap between current emissions reduction plans and what is needed to prevent dangerous climate change.
Pledges from countries attending the 21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties put the world on track for around 3C of warming by 2100, leaving governments with much more still to do, the report said.
Appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change
Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of 2C
Public awareness of the issue is low, and meat remains off the policy agenda
Governments must lead in shifting attitudes and behaviour
It says that changing diets to healthy levels of meat consumption could generate a quarter of the remaining emission reductions needed to keep warming below the ‘danger level’ of 2C.
Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption by Laura Wellesley, Catherine Happer and Antony Froggatt argues that, ultimately, dietary change is fundamental to achieving the 2C target.
The livestock sector is already responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the study.
Unless strong demand growth for meat is curtailed, livestock sector emissions will increase to the point where dangerous climate change is unavoidable.
Dietary change would also have major health benefits.
Global meat consumption is already above healthy levels, and double the recommended amount in industrialised countries, according to the study.
Too much red and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of non-communicable diseases, in particular cancer, as found most recently by the World Health Organisation.
The report said that governments are ignoring the opportunity.
Reducing meat consumption does not feature in a single national emissions reduction plan submitted in advance of the Paris meeting.
Governments are afraid to interfere in lifestyle choices for fear of public backlash, according to the report.
But new research undertaken for the study, including an innovative public survey in 12 countries and focus groups in Brazil, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States shows that government fears are exaggerated.
The report recommends initiatives to raise public awareness of the climate and health impacts of excessive meat consumption.