Where’s the Beef? – a recipe for decarbonisation

Where’s the beef? Cutting consumption to cut carbon

Source: Gianluca Milanesi (Unsplash)

Here’s a link to the podcast of my interview by Gavin McLoughlin of Newstalk radio on “Reducing Consumption and Committing to Decarbonisation”. It was a broad-ranging conversation, touching on spending patterns, lifestyles, jobs, innovation and policy. We began by discussing the rise of meat and dairy alternatives – here are some of my key points:

The rapid growth in meat and dairy alternatives:

“Governments around the world are setting even more ambitious goals in terms of climate change, and agriculture is part of that story, so it’s not just about people’s changing diets it’s also about the warming of the planet”

“over time as more and more consumers make the switch that’s going to increase the volumes. That in itself will reduce the cost of these alternatives [and] there’s a huge amount of money going into innovation in this area which will also reduce the cost”

“this is a rapidly growing and profitable area and [producers are] going to give the consumers a further push by marketing these alternatives more aggressively”

“ the growing middle class in particular in Asia sees things like meat and indeed dairy products as aspirational products […] this is a little unfortunate when we’re trying to reduce things like methane emissions from cattle”

“it’s extremely important that we put rocket boosters in under some of these changes and we head off [..] the changes in people’s consumption habits right across the world but particularly in Asia”

“another lever here […] could be regulations which may well be focused on trying to encourage farmers to come up with methods that reduce the amount of methane that’s being produced”

“another part of [the policy response] is the dreaded ‘t’ word, which is tax. We could see some kind of luxury tax be eventually being imposed on some food items”

“historically this has been a bit of a ‘no-no’ because of course it’s something which is seen as particularly hurting the poor. But there [is a way to tackle] that problem which is to redistribute some of the tax revenues that you get from taxing for example on meat and dairy products and using that to reduce taxes particularly on poorer households to compensate them”

The cross-border challenges

“there are two different things going on here on the what one is what’s happening to consumption and the other is the competitive aspect of production. You we see this in some of the very tetchy sort of trade negotiations that we’ve had in the last few years”

“this is going to be a messy process but you have to hope that the politicians who will be getting together in the coming months on these topics will start to address these problems head on”

“there will need to be some kind of agreement amongst the developed nations to effectively transfer funds to the emerging world to help them in this transition, otherwise this is going to be a very protracted and painful process.”

The impact on jobs

“Policymakers have really got to take care of the people of losing out in this transition not just on the consumer side, poorer households who might be facing bigger bills, but also on the jobs side”

“they will have to start putting money into, for example, disadvantaged parts of agriculture [such as] the idea of paying people to conserve nature”

“this kind of stuff can’t happen just overnight you’re going to have to phase in some of these changes”

“an important principle […] is you need to front run the compensation. In other words, you need to start anticipating the people who are going to lose out in this transition and put a lot of policy energy into thinking about how you can take care of those people”

Restraining consumption

“Consumption patterns will have to change and the sad fact is and this is not an easy message for politicians to get across”.

“we can’t expect to live our lives in the way that we have in the past. We are just consuming too much stuff”

“we can’t have the planet aspiring to running around in two and a half tonne SUVs even if they are electric”

“we’re going to have to look at other policy measures which are pretty radical so, for example, let’s take cars again I think you could anticipate that eventually there’s going to be much higher taxation on bigger cars”

“we need to get into position where the default position is actually I just need a vehicle that’s fit for purpose. Because the vast majority of people are travelling around either on their own or with just one passenger and for most journeys a small vehicle is perfectly adequate. If anybody wants to use a big vehicle for longer trips they’re just going to have to start thinking about renting them”

“ we’re going to have to start thinking about lifestyle changes as well there’s no way around the fact that lives will be transformed by the decarbonization”

Green credits

“the idea here is because you could be generating quite a lot of revenue from these taxes why not start to compensate some of the people are losing out in this transition by giving people flat rate credits up front”

“poorer households in essence would potentially be net beneficiaries from this package because the flat rate credits would be worth more to them than it would be to richer households who obviously consume a lot more of goods and bigger houses and other things that would be subjected to much heavier taxation over time”

“it’s not something that could happen overnight it would have to be phased in and there be obviously a huge amount of fuss about this, but the good news is I think we’re beginning to see people change their attitudes”

Will it happen?

“I’ve putting these ideas forward just to try and provoke debate and hopefully get people to tune into the idea that there are radical policy measures that could be enacted”

“it is no good NGOs just pointing the fingers at business. Business has got its part to play for sure but in the first instance it’s a case of market failure where policy needs to change”

“…whether that’s regulation or taxes and subsidies or massive public investment that has to happen in a big way over the next few years”

“the longer we leave it the bigger the challenge will become”

About markcliffe

Board Advisor and Thought Leader on the impact of disruptive change. Former Chief Economist of ING Group
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