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Background Climate change has been described as ‘the biggest global health threat of the 21st century’. Taxation based on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a potential mechanism for internalising the wider costs of climate change to society. We ask whether such a tax on UK food and drink would have a positive impact on climate change and UK population health, and what revenue it would raise. Methods and Findings The Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF) is used to derive baseline UK consumption data and food prices. Food specific GHG emissions are taken from a World Wildlife Fund report; cross- and own-price elasticities derived from LCF data are used to model changes in consumption following application of taxes. Health outcomes are modelled by a comparative risk assessment model. Two tax scenarios are modelled, where taxation levels are based on a UK governmental agriculture marginal abatement cost curve: (a) a tax of £2.72/tonne carbon dioxide equivalents (tCO2e)/100g product applied to all food and drink groups with above average emissions. (b) as with scenario (a) but food groups with emissions below average are subsidised to create a tax neutral scenario. Scenario (a) results in 6,750 (95% credible intervals: 6,150 to 7,350) deaths averted and a reduction in GHG emissions of 18,800 (14,700 to 23,000) ktCO2e per year. Annual revenue generated from this tax scenario is £2.03 (1.98 to 2.07) billion. Scenario (b) results in 3,720 (2,980 to 4,460) extra deaths and a reduction in GHG emissions of 16,100 (12,000 to 20,400) ktCO2¬e per year. Conclusions Incorporating the societal cost of greenhouse gases into the price of foods could save nearly 7,000 lives in the UK each year, reduce food-related GHG emissions, and generate substantial tax revenue. The revenue neutral scenario (b) demonstrates that sustainability and health goals are not always aligned.


Journal article


PLoS Medicine

Publication Date