This paper sets out the case for a sugar tax, arguing that it can achieve both health and climate goals. It analyses the greenhouse gas savings of three different approaches that could follow a 75.5% reduction in sugar consumption in the European Union (to align with World Health Organisation guidelines): afforesting excess EU sugar beet farmland; using excess sugar beet grown in the EU for biofuel; and the EU exporting sugar from its own sugar beet production, thus displacing Brazilian sugar consumption on the global market, and importing an equivalent amount of sugar cane ethanol from Brazil to use as biofuel.
The last scenario offers the greatest climate benefits, as shown in the figure below.
Image: Figure 3, King and van den Bergh. Changes in GHG emissions for the three scenarios.
Meeting environmental sustainability goals while simultaneously recovering from the health and economic crises arising from the coronavirus pandemic requires creative policy solutions. Sugar taxation presents one such policy as sugar crops are arguably the least efficient to consume from a health perspective but the most efficient for biofuel production. Here we analyse the sustainability co-benefits of reducing sugar consumption through redirecting existing sugar cropland to alternative uses. Emissions could fall 20.9–54.3 Mt CO2e yr−1 if the EU were to reduce its sugar consumption in line with health guidelines and the excess Brazilian sugar cane redirected to ethanol. These savings would be around four times higher than an alternative strategy of afforesting existing EU sugar beet cropland and double those from producing sugar beet ethanol in the European Union. Achieving this through policies aimed at behavioural change, with a serious role for sugar taxation, would not only reduce the environmental impacts of biofuels but also provide health and economic benefits.
King, L.C. and van den Bergh, J., 2022. Sugar taxation for climate and sustainability goals. Nature Sustainability, pp.1-7.
Read the full paper here. See also the TABLE explainer What can be done to shift eating patterns in healthier, more sustainable directions?