Counting the carbon cost of your Christmas dinner: ‘When do you want to pay for the impact of carbon emissions, now or later?’

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Paying to remove the carbon linked to Christmas dinner would increase prices by around one-third / Pic: GettyImages Alvarez
Paying to remove the carbon linked to Christmas dinner would increase prices by around one-third / Pic: GettyImages Alvarez

Related tags Carbon Greenhouse gas Christmas

Would you pay an extra €20.75 to remove the equivalent of the carbon emitted to produce your Christmas dinner?

Positive Carbon has calculated how much it would cost consumers if they were to pay to remove the carbon emitted in the production of their Christmas dinners. According to the environmental advocates, removing the average carbon linked to a ‘Christmas feast for eight’ would result in a 32% price increase, with the current cost of a Christmas dinner for eight amounting to an average €64.64. Adding the cost to remove the carbon would push this up to €85.39.

Achieving the internationally ratified net zero emissions commitment by 2050 requires both prevention and removal, Positive Carbon suggested. However, removing carbon is a costly task -- especially when applying the most effective methods such as carbon capture and storage.

By adding the cost to remove 1kg of carbon to the current price of 1kg of our food products we can get a better understanding of the real cost of food, Positive Carbon maintained. Positive Carbon calculated this by looking at aggregate food prices across 8,000 products and calculating their carbon equivalent using life cycle analysis from 'farm to gate' taking into account methane and nitrogen. The organisation then worked out the cost of carbon removal using a 'premium verifiable source'. This allowed the organisation to determine what the food price would be if we were to include the cost of carbon removal.

In its report, The Real Cost of Food​, Positive Carbon revealed when serving an average table of eight, offsetting a turkey would increase the price by 28%, ham would see a 86% hike and parsnips, carrots and Brussel sprouts would see increases of 9%, 15% and 17% respectively.

The data, the report's authors observed, shows that not all food has the same impact on the environment. Red meat, dairy and pork are ‘highly carbon intensive’, suggesting that certain foods are ‘under-priced for the amount that it damages our environment and our health’.

Positive Carbon suggested this points to a way that consumers can make a real difference to their own carbon footprints, Positive Carbon COO Aisling Kirwan told FoodNavigator.

“One of the most significant changes individuals can make to reduce their carbon footprint is to switch to low-carbon meats such as turkey and chicken. As these animals produce significantly less methane and require less land, feed and water to farm in comparison to cows, lambs and pigs. While incorporating more vegan or vegetarian meals would have the highest impact, we understand that meat is still a central part of people's diets. Everyone doesn't have to switch to a vegan diet but move towards a lower-carbon diet,”​ Kirwan suggested.

Carbon Positive also suggested the varying footprint of different types of food demonstrates the need for 'economically efficient' policies to regulate meat consumption and/or consumption taxes on meat. However, while carbon pricing might prove an important lever in promoting lower carbon diets, at a time of rising food costs and food inflation, Kirwan was quick to stress that the carbon cost of food production should not fall to the most vulnerable in society.

“When we consider the carbon price and how it can influence the adoption of more sustainable food systems and consumption habits, the costs should not fall on the most vulnerable already suffering from the consequences of inflation. Reducing carbon emissions will require everyone to take action but the countries and sections of society that can afford to, must take more responsibility.

“Our food system contributes a staggering 34% of all greenhouse gases. Re-evaluating how we manage our food production, distribution, processing, consumption and disposal is a good place to start. As governments and businesses gear up to reduce carbon emissions by 55% in 2030 and to ultimately become net zero mid-century, accounting for the carbon footprint of food items will soon move away from an interesting accounting exercise to a necessity. While the thought of paying more for food seems unfair in an already volatile market. We need to reframe the conversation to when do you want to start paying for the impact of increased carbon emissions? Now or later? The latter costing us far more than we can imagine."

Related topics Market Trends Sustainability Meat

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