Industrial smoke stacks pump out pollution in the atmosphere. (Big Stock Photo)

A new study in Nature Climate Change finds a half million deaths worldwide from chronic diseases would be saved by taxing greenhouse gas emissions.

Researchers from the Future of Food at the University of Oxford and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. conducted the first global analysis to look at how levying emissions prices on food could impact greenhouse gas emissions and human health, according to Oxford Martin.

“Emissions pricing of foods would generate a much-needed contribution of the food system to reducing the impacts of global climate change,” said Dr Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, who led the study. “We hope that’s something policymakers gathering this week at the Marrakech climate conference will take note of.”

If the tax was approved, the study says the following things would happen:

-One billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided in the year 2020, which would be more than the total current emissions from global aviation.

-About a half million lives per year would be saved in 2020, because of lower consumption of red meat and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.

-There would be a decrease in the number of people who are overweight or obese.

-Beef would be more than 40 percent more expensive globally to pay for climate damage caused by its production.

-Milk and other meats would need to be more expensive with an increase of 20 percent, while the price of vegetable oils would be increased.

-Researchers estimate there would be a 10 percent lower consumption of food items high in emissions.

“Food prices are a sensitive topic,” said Springmann. “We approached the design of climate policies for the food and agriculture system from a health perspective to find out whether the emissions of food production could be priced without putting peoples’ health at risk.”

It’s not at all clear whether the proposed increase in food prices would have negative effects on food access and food insecurity.

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About the Author

Mike Hardman is a veteran editor and journalist, working for on line and newspaper publications and in radio and television during a 35-year career. He has been honored nationally, regionally and statewide for excellence in editing and reporting. Mike was also a regional editor for AOL-Patch, covering Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and has written for a variety of publications, including GateHouse Media, the Boston Globe and the MetroWest Daily News. He earned a degree in Multidisciplinary studies (broadcast journalism) from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.