Carbon Rationing

It is plain to see that Climate Change has slipped off the agenda of late. When societies around the globe are struggling with austerity, wars, recessions and depressions, a climatic catastrophe that is decades off seems like an issue that could be tackled in five years time… or maybe ten years. It is also plain to see that when the world’s greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by around 80% by 2030 to avert climatic disaster, we haven’t a day to spare in overhauling our infrastructure, economy and lifestyle.

Nudging industry and the public can only go so far. With the direct consequences of pollution being so hard to see for so many, only regulation and activity by government will achieve the change within the limited time we have available. There is a but: If the UK becomes environmentally sustainable, all we will have done is gone through a great deal of cost and inconvenience to eliminate 2% of the worlds CO2. That will clearly not solve anything. We are in the European Union for a reason, and one thing that the EU is useful for is establishing international coordinated action against climate change.

If all EU member states introduced a radical programme of action simultaneously, it would be too big a market for multinationals to leave (they’d have to comply with green regulations even if that meant a decline in their profitability), a wide pool of talent would exist to help Europe undergo green innovation, a tangible slowing of climatic change would arise (EU states account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions) and it would become easier for other nations to follow the lead. Economic and political pressure could be applied to the US and the Brics too.

The Political Idealist will today focus in on how the public might be guided towards personal CO2 reduction: Carbon rationing.

Every resident over a certain age (anything from 11 to 18) would be issued with a Carbon Credit account and card. Parents of young children would manage their Carbon Credits on their behalf. Every month, all will be entitled to a certain number of Credits. What exactly would these be used for? Alongside cash prices, a Carbon Price would be charged on the following:

• Air travel, public transport, petrol, diesel and other fuels
• Consumer electronics (i.e. computers)
• Clothing
• Furniture
• White goods
• Energy
• Vehicles

The number of Carbon Credits charged would vary according to the CO2 used to produce, package and transport the goods, or to provide the service. The system would thus favour second-hand, recycled and home produced goods and green fuels. Of course, that leaves large areas of the economy un-rationed. These would be regulated by strengthening emissions capping schemes, so carbon emissions will ultimately be reflected in the price.

The number of credits distributed would be slowly reduced year-by-year as circumstances allow. Carbon Rationing, when introduced, would have to be fairly comfortable to avoid alienating the public. Also, recognition that some have special requirements for extra Credits must be given. So Carbon Credit bonuses would be given to those with children, disabilities, rural lifestyles, lower incomes (energy efficiency is not free) would have top-ups. Furthermore, more credits would be given in Winter than Summer, for obvious reasons.

We’ve created a disincentive for excessively damaging behaviour, but we also need an incentive. What could be more effective than cash? Those with surplus Credits would have the option of selling then back to the supplier, at a fixed (but generous) price. These could then be re-sold at a large profit to other consumers, for an international holiday, for example.

Carbon Rationing would unlock a green revolution. Citizens would demand better and cheaper public transport; British goods will enjoy an advantage over imports; town centres will become pedestrian-friendly once more; an attitude of re-use, re-sell and re-cycle will become ingrained in the public. There is a pool of economic growth that could be tapped into a more enlightened, friendly and sustainable society is there for the taking.

The big question is: How do we achieve this? Or is there a better way?

BY: Jack Darrant