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Alok Sharma has signalled he is against introducing higher taxes on meat, saying he prefers a “carrot rather than stick” approach to tackling climate change.
Environment Secretary George Eustice, in an interview with the Telegraph, appeared to raise the prospect of taxes on high-carbon foods such as meat and diary.
He told the newspaper the UK will need to “move into the realms of things like carbon taxes” when existing European Union agricultural subsidies are finally phased out.
But Cop26 president Mr Sharma said he believed what people ate was a “personal choice”.
The former business secretary told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that taxes were for the Treasury to consider, but he believed in “incentivising” people to change their behaviour for the good of the climate.
“I have been very clear that, on a personal level, I am someone who very much believes in carrot rather than stick, trying to encourage people to move in the right direction,” Mr Sharma said.
Asked whether he thought people should eat less meat to reduce the impact on the climate, Mr Sharma replied: “That’s a personal choice.
“What we need to make sure as a Government is that we are incentivising people to make decisions in the same way that we have grants to support people to buy ultra-low emission vehicles, you’ve got the boiler money that has now been announced in terms of replacing boilers with heat pumps.
“That, I think, is the way you help people and support them to make those decisions.”
Labour shadow business and energy secretary Ed Miliband agreed that the population should “cut down” its meat intake but he was “sceptical about a meat tax”.
The former party leader told Marr his objections lay in how “fair” food taxes would be and whether it could leave some lower-income consumers “out of pocket”.
During his Sunday morning interviews, Mr Sharma also faced questions about the UK’s green leadership credentials if it approved plans for a new oil field in the North Atlantic.
It came after the Prime Minister’s climate change tsar saw his speech at the closing ceremony of the COY16 youth conference on Saturday in Glasgow interrupted when a group of delegates stood up and branded him a “hypocrite” for the UK Government’s support of the Cambo oil field, west of the Shetland Islands.
Quizzed on the prospect of the oil field being granted approval, Mr Sharma said experts had recognised that even a net-zero economy would need some oil and gas.
However, he said the country would have to “wait and see” whether the oil field gets the go-ahead, with the application and consultation currently being considered.
He also defended Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision to slash air passenger duty on domestic flights in the Budget.
Mr Sharma said domestic aviation represented “less than 1% of our emissions in 2019” and the country was “investing in sustainable aviation fuels”.
He told Sky News: “Of course, there is an issue of connectivity where, because we are an island, you can’t get that easily from one part to the other, which isn’t the case for every country.”
Mr Miliband hinted that Labour would repeal the aviation tax cut if it won the next election.
He told Marr: “We’re against it and we’ll set out our promise in the manifesto. You get a clear sense of where I’m going.”