Let's help the poor, not punish them

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

A recent Guardian article argues for carbon taxes that target those who can afford to play.  It quotes IEA data that provides energy-related CO2 emissions per person in 2021.  It says:

"In rich countries, the richest 10% of people have carbon footprints about 15 times greater than the poorest 10%.  In China, South Africa, Brazil and India, however, the top 10% cause 30-40 times more emissions than the bottom 10%."

Intuitively, we all knew that, but it's good to have some up to date numbers.

The article is arguing for carbon taxes that focus on those who have the resources to change their high-carbon lifestyles without damaging their wellbeing,  Ruth Townend, a research fellow at the Chatham House thinktank in the UK, is quoted:

“Without paying attention to inequality in policymaking, it will be impossible to have a just transition to a more sustainable society. ... Policy sticks, such as taxation, should only be used to target those who have capacity to make cuts, ie those who are better off, whereas policy carrots, such as subsidies and support for lifestyle change, are needed for those who are unfairly burdened at the moment by rising fuel and food prices.”

She said that a blanket approach by governments to shift to green lifestyles unfairly disadvantaged the poorest in society and undermined trust.  This is in line with the Paris Agreement where such safeguards were emphasised.  Just as I was arguing over the Summer in relation to ULEZ, EVs and the gas / oil boiler replacements.

It's not yet clear that UK administrations fully understand the importance of this; or that the many advocates of climate action understand it either.  Can it be that they think that there are no poor people in the UK; or that such folk don't matter – or vote?

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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  • The economist Raghuram Rajan proposed an interesting mechanism here: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/global-carbon-incentive-for-reducing-emissions-by-raghuram-rajan-2021-05 which resolves all these problems. In addition, individual countries could have their own carbon taxes. As a proportion of income, these probably affect the poor most even if, in absolute terms, they affect the rich the most. They do incentivise all people to reduce carbon emissions in the way that is cheapest for them (which might be very different for a poor person than for a rich person) - they avoid the arbitrariness of compulsory heat pumps etc. The other thing about a carbon tax is that, if it does bear most heavily on the poor, the proceeds can be used to reduce the taxes which also bear most heavily on the poor so making the distributional effects more neutral. I am wondering if you are the Dr. Bill Scott who used to teach at Marist in Hull (me for a year and my brother for three).