The government has been kite-flying proposals for beef and dairy carbon taxes - to signal to environmentalists that it is “on their side” and to see how big the lobbyists’ backlash will be. The Climate Change Committee says we should eat less meat, and hence what better way to do this than put a carbon tax on it? The National Farmers' Union (NFU) counters that any such tax must first be internationally recognised and not put its members at a competitive disadvantage against imports. Unilateral carbon production targets, and unilateral carbon prices can make climate change worse. Think of Brazilian beef raised on cleared Amazonian rainforest displacing UK upland pasture-fed beef. But it is also a council of despair: for it will be a long wait for an internationally recognised and applied beef and dairy tax.
The positive answer is that bespoke taxes such as these need bespoke border adjustments. Beef and dairy taxes at home need to be applied at the same rates at the border too. This could be part of the serious business of decarbonising agriculture here. Agriculture is a mere 0.6% of GDP, but produces over 10% of the UK's emissions (especially if the carbon losses from soil and peat are properly measured). Agriculture is relatively the biggest carbon polluter and applying the polluter-pays principle through carbon taxes to the border and at home is a good place to start.