Last Wednesday along with six other PhD students, I met Sir John Beddington former chief scientific adviser to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government. Sir John was a very pleasant and down to earth academic who showed genuine enthusiasm for the work which the different PhD students presented to him.
Despite a diverse group of subjects, ranging from human rights law to carbon consumption taxes, Sir John seemed to grasp the main points of the research and made helpful contributions.
My own PhD is focussed on the demand for low carbon food products with regards to how a carbon consumption tax may help to achieve this. Sir John offered the useful advice of incorporating into my thesis how alcohol taxes are essentially too low based on the evidence of the associated problems high consumption of alcohol can cause. Sir John emphasised that quality academic research is what should influence government policy and not evidence based on hearsay. I was pleased that Sir John’s reaction to the taxes was not negative (as might be expected from certain former pop stars) but instead he asked very reasonable questions which one would expect from such an accomplished academic.
His evening lecture: “Legacies of the 20th Century and Challenges for the 21st” highlighted the challenges for the 21st century of climate change, increased global population and increased demand for natural resources. The element of hope that the world can potentially adapt to these challenges through the use of science and technology differentiated this lecture from the dogma which is often peddled in the media. His quote borrowed from Nobel Prize winner Peter Agre succinctly summed up the lecture: “Those nations which invest in science are investing in the future. Those that cut science are hoping for the best”.
This economics based PhD is investigating the demand for low carbon food products, due to food based carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) being a major contributor to Scotland’s overall total greenhouse gas emissions. The hypothetical policy of a carbon consumption tax and the likely effects of the tax on the demand for food products are modelled. The method is mainly based on using an almost ideal demand system (AIDS) model in order to calculate price elasticities. The AIDS model uses both scanner price data (years 2006-2011) and carbon footprint data. Each food group is then studied and the preliminary results suggest that if a tax is applied to only meat products (the largest emitter of CO2e emissions within the Scottish food chain) then Scottish household carbon footprints are likely to reduce by 296,376.98 t/ CO2e/y. This translates into 12.6% of meat emissions being reduced from the Scottish meat chain.
Neil Chalmers has recently entered third year of his PhD titled “Demand for low carbon food products” at the University of Edinburgh. He was educated at the University of Stirling where he received a BA (Hons) in Economics. He then moved to Denmark and received an MSc in Agricultural Economics from the University of Copenhagen. While at the University of Copenhagen, he developed an interest in modelling the likely effects of agricultural and environmental policy. This led him to complete an internship with the Scottish Agricultural College focussing on modelling policy implications for Scotland. His main interests are the economics of consumer behaviour and policy.
Dr. Revoredo-Giha (SAC)
Dr. Simon Shackley