Influential think-tank Chatham House has called on the UK government to introduce a meat tax to help tackle global warming.

In a new report out today (24 November), Chatham House said growing consumer appetite for meat was a “major driver” of climate change, and cutting consumption would be “critical” to keeping global warming below the danger level of two degrees Celsius.

Warning of a “significant awareness gap” among consumers around the links between diet and climate change, the report called for the government to take a more “interventionist” approach to reduce unsustainable meat consumption.

It said policy makers should reduce the amount of meat served in hospitals and schools, remove livestock subsidies and introduce a direct carbon tax on meat, as well as supporting the development of meat alternatives and launching education campaigns to promote balance diets.

The report claimed global governments have been afraid to act on meat consumption because they feared backlash from the voting public and the “financially powerful” meat industry.

Chatham House research associate for energy, environment and resources Laura Wellesley said governments were afraid to act on “meat consumption because they feared backlash from the voting public and the “financially powerful” meat industry.

“Unwilling to risk accusations of nanny state-ism, they find themselves trapped in a cycle of inertia,” she said.

“The assumption is that calling for dietary change is too politically sensitive, too practically difficult a policy avenue to pursue. But digging a little deeper into public opinion suggests that this assumption is unjustified.”

She claimed focus groups conducted by Chatham House in the UK suggested the public expects the government to intervene where necessary, and was unlikely to stage a “sustained resistance”.

Wellesley said that in order to be effective, government policies would have to span “the whole range” of interventions.

“Soft measures to raise awareness and encourage behaviour change – through adjustments to public procurement standards, for example, and vegetarian default options in school and hospital canteens – will need to be accompanied by more interventionist measures such as taxation and subsidy reform,” she added.