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Sugar taxation for climate and sustainability goals

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1: Sugar crop production.
Fig. 2: Centrifugal sugar production and consumption.
Fig. 3: Changes in GHG emissions for the three scenarios.
Fig. 4: EU sugar and tobacco consumption per capita.

Data availability

The agricultural production data that support these findings are publicly available in the FAOSTAT repository https://www.fao.org/faostat and the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service repository https://www.fas.usda.gov/data.

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Acknowledgements

The research received financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation through the ‘María de Maeztu’ Programme for Units of Excellence (CEX2019-000940-M) and from the European Union through an Advanced European Research Council Grant under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme (grant agreement number 741087).

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L.C.K. and J.v.d.B. jointly designed the study and wrote the paper. L.C.K. performed the analysis.

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Correspondence to Lewis C. King.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Saleh Mamun and Barry D. Solomon for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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King, L.C., van den Bergh, J. Sugar taxation for climate and sustainability goals. Nat Sustain (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00934-4

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